People and Culture

People of Bali

The Balinese, anthropologists suggest, are an amalgamation of a number of people. The Chinese coming from the North, the Indian and the Arabs from way West, and other groups coming directly to Bali or by way of Java. Centuries past, and they become what is now known as native Balinese. They are blessed with well-developed bodies, golden-bronze skin, long, glossy black hair, and charm and mystical smiles, happily living in a rich and complete yet dynamic culture.

There are pockets of villages in which fraternization with outsiders is completely restricted, resulting in a people and a culture that the Balinese called Bali Aga (Old Bali), which may curiously be the tunnel that allows us to periscope into the culture of Bali in the past centuries.

A person in Bali cannot exist in solitude. Balinese society is very community oriented. The first invitation to attend the next village meeting is delivered to you practically as a wedding present. If ignored, it will result in a warning; if three invitations are ignored, then the village may take actions against you. Since land is usually owned by the community, the village may revoke your privilege to till the land. Much of the rituals require massive effort, which usually the village shoulder in cooperatively. You will have to shoulder it yourself, should you decide to be an outcast. Along with other families in the village, you participate in meetings. You may play an instrument in the orchestra, or dance in the ceremonies. The women prepare the offerings, for their little shrines or for the village's offering to the Mother Temple of Besakih. If a child in a family is having his tooth filed, the rest of the village's women will help cook and prepare, and the men help erect a stage and decorate the house. In short, life in Bali is never alone.

You can observe this even in little children. As their parents go to plant rice, the children - all seem to be in their best behavior - play with their age group. The older ones will care for the younger ones. Fights rarely occur, and loud screams or cries are even scarcer. As if they have been taught to be at harmony with their surroundings.

Though originating from India, the brand of Hinduism known and practiced in Bali differs significantly from the one found in India. Instead of mysticism or philosophy, the emphasis of Bali's Hinduism is more in rituals and dramatic features, allowing the religion and its practice to be incorporated into daily life of Balinese peasants. These rituals and dramatic features have been intricately woven into the lives of Balinese to the extent that one cannot separate the religious life of Bali from its daily life. In fact, one can say every little action of a Balinese has some religious connotation; stone and wood carvings, cremation ceremony, trance dances, vibrant music - all are intended to please the gods and the goddesses. These rituals most often take place in a temple, the most important structure in the Balinese culture.

Bali and its Culture

The culture of Bali is unique. People say that the Balinese people have reached self-content. It is not an exaggeration that when a Balinese is asked what heaven is like, he would say, just like Bali, without the worries of mundane life. They want to live in Bali, to be cremated in Bali when they die, and to reincarnate in Bali.

It does not mean that the Balinese resist changes. Instead, they adapt them to their own system. This goes back far in history. Prior to the arrival of Hinduism in Bali and in other parts of Indonesia, people practised animism. When Hinduism arrives, the practice of Hinduism is adapted to local practices. The brand of Hinduism practised in Bali is much different from that in India. Other aspects of life flow this way.

Traditional paintings, faithfully depicting religious and mythological symbolisms, met with Western and modern paintings, giving birth to contemporary paintings, free in its creative topics yet strongly and distinctively Balinese. Its dance, its music, and its wayang theaters , while have been continually enriched by contemporary and external artistry, are still laden with religious connotations, performed mostly to appease and to please the gods and the goddesses. Wood and stone carvings, gold and silver crafts parallel the development of paintings, gracefully evolving with external forces to enhance their characters. The batik of Bali owes its origin to Java, and inspired the development of ikat and double ikat.