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  • Bali is one of Indonesia's 17,000 islands and is approximately the size of Delaware.


  • Bali has a population of 4.22 million who predominantly practice Balinese Hinduism, which includes animism and ancestor worship.


  • Religion plays a strong role in daily life as well as within social, political, educational and legal organizations.


  • The arts of dance, music, painting and theater are woven into the fabric of society. These creative expressions serve religious life.


  • Most Balinese live in family compounds comprised of multi-generational and extended family members. The family temple is the largest space in the traditional compound.


  • Family compounds are located in villages that have unique occupational specialties and artistry - for example, wood carving. Each village has its own village temple (Pura Desa), temple of the dead (Pura Dalem) and ancestral temple (Pura Puseh).


  • The built environment retains a traditional style of architecture which includes pagoda, tile roof or grass thatching and open-air spaces.


  • The majority of the population live in the developed southern region of the island.

Ubud girls

Traditional Balinese art


Mt. Batur and Lake Batur

  • Bali has a tropical climate with two seasons, rainy and dry. The rainy season is akin to monsoon seasons elsewhere.


  • The northeast region is arid, whereas the wet ecosystems around the rest of the island are perfect for the cultivation of the sawah (rice paddy).


  • A spine of volcanic mountains runs the width of the island. The main source of water for drinking and irrigation is the crater lake on the volcanic Mt. Batur, making the water rich in minerals.


  • Coral reefs ring the island and provide a home to a richly diverse marine population. However, agricultural chemical runoff, rising sea temperatures and destructive fishing techniques have caused coral bleaching and death.


  • Overuse of plastic, poor waste management and a deficit in environmental education have led to an island despoiled by trash heaps, waste burning, and harm to wildlife populations.


  • Only 30 years ago, agriculture was Bali's primary source of income and employment.


  • The primary crop on the island is rice. Other crops grown (particularly in drier areas) include copra, cloves, coffee, coconuts, soy, peanuts, tobacco, fruits and vegetables.


  • As of 2012, over 7 million tourists both foreign and domestic visited Bali each year. Most never visit any other island in Indonesia. Tourism has been expanding steadily over the last few decades and continues to surge.


  • The median income of Indonesians is around $1200 a year.


  • Bali has the 3rd highest GNP/HHI in Indonesia (following Jakarta, the capital, and Kalimantan, the oil producing region).


  • Despite the recession, Indonesia has enjoyed an annual economic growth of 7% over the past few years.

Farmer in Ubud


Bali's nine regencies

A painting by Walter Spies, a prominent force in the popularization of Bali as a tourist destination

  • Indonesia only recently became a democracy, in 1998.


  • Bali is a semi-autonomous island with a central federal government located in Jakarta.


  • Bali's local government is composed of a governor, 9 regencies (districts) and banjar (village leadership).


  • The Dutch controlled Indonesia as a colony for over 350 years beginning in 1602 with central administration located in Batavia (now known as Jakarta) on the island of Java.


  • The Dutch invaded northern Bali in the mid-19th century and gained complete administrative control of the island in 1911.


  • Despite a colonial presence, local religion and culture remained intact. Western tourists began arriving in large numbers in the 1930s after several anthropologists and artists created an image of the island as an unspoilt tropical paradise where people were at peace with each other and nature. 


  • The Dutch fled during WWII, leaving Bali to be occupied and enslaved by the Japanese.


  • After the war, the Dutch attempted to resume their colonial rule but were thwarted by a growing independence movement.


  • Independence was declared in 1945, but the country was not given sovereignty until 1949.


Attracted to Bali for its spices, wood, tea, copra and other resources, the Dutch mounted three military expeditions to Bali between 1846 and 1849, finally gaining control of northern kingdoms with the third attack. Here, a member of the royal family was named Regent and the Dutch established a colonial administration. Initial reforms from the Dutch included vaccinations, the banning of self-sacrifice for widows, the eradication of slavery, improvements in irrigation, agricultural development, expanded trade, and the construction of public infrastructure.


War between Balinese kingdoms allowed the Dutch to increase their political control and expand to Lombok. Starting in 1906, a series of interventions by the Dutch in the southern region cemented their complete political control of the island. During the first attack, over 1,000 Balinese performed mass ritual suicide or puputan rather than face the dishonor of surrender. The Rajas and their followers prepared themselves for death and walked into the oncoming Dutch troops and were either shot outright or killed themselves with a sacred knife (kris). ​​Afterwards, the soldiers raided the mountain of corpses and the royal palace.


The horrific and disproportional violence of these interventions earned the Dutch harsh criticism from the West, and forced the Dutch to make amends and develop a code of ethics. Colonial forces on the island became students and stewards of Balinese culture and eventually opened the island to tourism in 1914. Artists and anthropologists who visited in the 1930s created our contemporary vision of Bali as a tropical land of peace, beauty and spirituality.


However, Bali was not yet free from colonial interlopers. During WWII, the Dutch fled the island and new occupation by Imperial Japan proved even more cruel and damaging. Following the retreat of the Japanese in 1945, the Dutch attempted to return but by then there was a movement towards independence, which was finally recognized internationally in 1949. Gusti Ngurah Rai and Sukarno led the Indonesian struggle for independence and became the first president.


During occupation the Balinese were not allowed to read or write, but they continued the traditions of oral storytelling, theatre, dance, music and the rituals of religious daily life. The essence of their lives continued and resulted in the retention of a very strong cultural identity. All attempts to introduce Christianity were total failures. Agricultural systems and practices that had made the islanders extremely successful rice growers were left alone, as the Dutch did not have any better advice in this area.

Dutch ships arriving in Bali

The aftermath of puputan

Carving of Dutchman

Anggapan, sacred knife and tool


Giving offerings

Prayer at a temple ceremony

Bringing offerings to temple

Most of the Balinese practice a unique combination of Hinduism, Buddhism, animism and ancestor worship. The original Hindus were disciples of Rsi Markandeya from Java in the 8th C. Hinduism was spread from India to Java by the Majapahit empire and reached Bali during the 13th century. The Bali Aga fled to the mountains where they continue to live in a very traditional and secluded existence. Though Islam was spread thoroughly throughout the rest of Indonesia via trade routes of the 16th century, Bali was passed over due to its lack of exportable goods like spices.


Small pockets of Muslims, Buddhists and Christians do exist in Bali, but for most citizens, Balinese Hindu rituals and ceremonies play a central role in everyday life. Throughout the day, offerings to the Gods are made around the interior and exterior of compounds, offices, businesses and schools.


Each morning, the Balinese calendar with 210 days per year is consulted to determine upcoming upacara(ceremonies). The gamelan orchestra, dancing, wayang kulit (shadow puppets) and theatre often play a part in the ceremonies. These creative expressions are intended to serve the Gods and are integral to their worship rites.


Balinese Hindus believe in one supreme God (Ida Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa) and His three manifestations: Brahma the Creator, Wisnu the Preserver and Shiwa the Transformer. Indigenous beliefs in the natural elements and the ancestors blend with Indian ideology.


Nature is regarded as a powerful entity and each of its elements are infused with the spirit world. Therefore, these must be taken care of and respected. The religion has five pillars of faith: the belief in one supreme God, the belief in the soul as the universal principle of consciousness (atma), the belief in the fruition of one's deeds (karma), belief in the process of life and death (samsara) and belief in ultimate release (moksa). One consequential belief is in reincarnation, in which an individual inherits his or her status as a result of his or her past life. When Balinese die, their bodies are cremated in an elaborate and quite expensive ceremony to ensure a peaceful passing to the next life.


In their practice, rituals and blessings are prolific and cover everything from motorbikes to cutting a baby's hair for the first time. These rituals are meant to restore balance between deities and demons and other forces of the world. The strength of Balinese religion is the foundation for their strong identity. Their relationship to this religion has wrought the tangible preservation of culture against outside influences. Everyday life in Bali is replete with social and religious obligations that result in a complete integration of environment, religion and community.


Bali’s most important credo is Tri Hita Karana. It is the intention of each Balinese to live a life comprised of this philosophy:


1. Human harmony and balance with God;

​2. Human harmony and balance with other humans​;

3. Human harmony and balance with nature, the environment and animals.


As the Balinese live communally, they benefit from the practice of true democracy. Every aspect of their lives is discussed in the banjar, as each married man belongs to this system of communal governing. A few other important concepts are "Gotong Royong", which means "mutual assistance" or "working together", and Tat Twam Asi which means "I am you and you are me". Villages in Bali are grouped into banjar, a unit of hundreds of families which make decisions through discussion and compromise. Another common expression “Suka-Duka” means "happiness-sadness" - that we are together during happiness and during sorrow. These are not empty words or concepts; people join in to help one another whether it is a family temple purification, wedding, funeral or a desa upacara (village ceremony).


Farmers are also members of the subak to coordinate the life-giving and sacred water resources. The subak provides an equal water allocation system using coordination to achieve the best outcome for all. They prescribe to the adage ”What is good for my neighbor is good for me".

Making offerings and praying for a good harvest

Gotong Royong - working together


Subak canal

Working ducks help manage pests

Bali is an agrarian society focused on rice production. To ask someone if they have eaten, you ask, "Have you eaten your rice today?" Historically, the Balinese grew many kinds of rice; black, brown, red, pink and a nutritious long-grain white variety. Today Bali's agriculture is close to being a monoculture of hybrid white rice instituted in 1971 as part of the Green Revolution. The western goal of this program was to ensure that everyone could feed themselves, so a faster-growing hybrid seed was introduced along with chemical fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides. Yield was prioritized over nutrition, and these new innovations were made mandatory. Though it did allow people to get enough calories, it also had horrific consequences for human and environmental health. Women giving birth often hemorrhaged due to nutritional deficiencies, and diabetes created by the rice's high glucose index has become a large problem. Refined, bland and lacking fiber this type of rice is still eaten in massive quantities with every meal.


In the 11th C., the Balinese devised a very sophisticated canal system emanating from the crater lake of Mount Batur called the subak. It was so successful in delivering water economically and collectively to the farmers of Bali that even the Dutch did not intrude on the practice, and left farming to the Balinese. The management of these systems is an effective democracy by all members of an individual, geographicalsubak. It ensures a planting and harvesting schedule that delivers water effectively to farmers living near Mount Batur all the way down to the coast lines. In 2012, several subak sites were designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.

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