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Yesterday Bali

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Of the Gods has a long history from the Neolithic era to today’s global civilization, and along the way has been the recipient of numerous influences. Indeed, it was the Dutch administrations’ efforts to maintain the unique characteristics of Bali that helped the island develop such a thriving tourist industry, and led to today’s concept of paradise. In recent years its idyllic charm has helped the tourism industry grow and become the biggest asset for modern Bali. 


The Geology of Bali 



Of Bali begins deep in the Earth’s crust. The same might be said of any place, but in Bali the evidence of those beginnings, and of its continuing evolution, are everywhere. In geological terms Bali is very young, part of the chain of volcanoes known as the “Sunda arc” where two continental plates meet. 


In Bali, that causes Brobdingnagian slab of ancient limestone seafloor to lift, producing the Bukit Peninsula and weakening the crust to create a series of fissures that run east to west through the centre of the island-volcanoes that regularly spew fresh molten rock piles up into mountain peaks. 


Over time these peaks reached such a height that they caught the clouds so that together they became an engine of plenty, the continuous hurling up of fresh, young, mineral rich earth; the constantly gushing rivers and the growing fertility of the soil eventually producing the lush green island spiked as paradise to the 3.3 million foreign tourists who arrive each year. 


At the beginning in the dense jungles lived animals and plants, then millennia later, people too: people who celebrate their good fortune but who never forget that it is the volcanoes they have to thank and have a healthy respect for. After all, it is none other than the majestic, almost perfectly conical Gunung Agung (3,031 meters), whose most recent major eruption in 1963 spared Balinese Hinduism’s holiest shrine Pura Besakih. 


The aftermath of the eruption killed almost 2,000 people and led to years of famine and sickness. The occurrence is thought to have contributed to the particular ferocity in Bali of the violent political upheaval that swept through Indonesia in 1965-66.


Natural History



Essential feature for its development is the fact that Bali is an island, rendering its coasts open to influence, but also, in certain periods able to develop in isolation. This has also been true of its natural history. Bali’s flora and fauna is closely related to that of Java to which it was connected around 40,000 years ago during the ice age when sea levels were lower. 


But since the rising of the seas, distinctions between Javanese and Balinese plants and animals have developed. The Balinese tiger (Pantehra tigris balica), for example, hunted to extinction sometime around 1937, was much smaller than the Javanese – also extinct – and perhaps never as numerous. 


The strait between Java and Bali is relatively shallow. The Lombok Strait to the east of Bali, on the other hand, is deep and even when sea levels were more than 100 meters lower, was still underwater. The line between Bali and Lombok is part of the “Wallace Line”, a barrier posited by naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace in the 1850s, which separates the ecosystems of South-east Asia from those of Australasia: tigers, deer, monkeys to the west of the lime, marsupials to the east. 


This deep channel may have stopped the migration of land-bound animals and plants and most bats and birds. But even with the rising of the seas as the ice caps retreated, it never entirely stopped people. Subsequently, Bali has long been part of an extensive network of trade routes that spread commodities, empires, people and ideas throughout the region. 


Bali Inhabitant 



Tools unearthed in caves and archaeological digs around the island provide evidence of human occupation since Paleolithic times-relatives of “Java Man”. Later, during the Neolithic period from around 3000-600 BC, dead members of an ancient aristocracy were folded into Sarcophagi hewn from volcanic rock. 


The Neolithic period overlapped with the bronze age, and bronze artefacts like ceremonial axe-heads and kettle drums, including the massive “Moon of Pejeng” – the largest of its kind still in existence – provide evidence of the arrival of the Dong Son culture that first arose in the north of what is now Vietnam in around 700 BC.


These bronze drums are thought to have served a ritual function in the practice of wet rice cultivation, which also arrived with the Dong son. The first rice terraces date back to then. Bali’s Bronze Age lasted almost until the next major waves of Hindu Buddhist influence from Java from 800-1300 AD. 


To begin with, these incursions were small, led by peripatetic priests who’s wandering are said to have led directly to the establishment of the earliest temples. As the centuries passed, however, they became more about the expansion of Javanese influence by force, first by the Buddhist Sailendra Dynasty, then King Airlangga who ruled over Bali and East Java. Finally the Majapahit Empire, which after months of war captured the Balinese capital of Bedulu in 1343. 


At its peak shortly after, the Majapahit is said to have controlled most of the archipelago and peninsula Malaya, but it fell into decline from the late 13th century, losing traction over the next two centuries until only Bali remained. 


The Majapahit Empire was the major influence on the Balinese religious beliefs and rituals of today, and also led to the adoption of a system of royal courts and a hierarchical social structure that was rejected by the people known today as the Bali Aga. 


Chinese and European Influence 



Of Chinese influence can be traced in and around Batur from as early as the 4th century AD. There is some suggestion that the rules governing traditional Balinese architecture derive from feng shui, while built forms are also reminiscent of ancient Chinese structures, especially the pagoda-like roofs of Balinese temples. 


Added to this is the similarity between the Balinese Barong and the Chinese lion dance and the music that accompanies them. Not to mention the folklore that the long-haired Kintamani breed of Balinese dogs are descended from an ancient chow chow, the pet of a Chinese emissary. A further legacy is the continuing ceremonial importance of Chinese coins or kepeng, which were still in circulation as currency as recently as the 1950s. 


It was the value of these coins to the Balinese that allowed one of the earliest and most successful European traders on Bali to prosper. Danish rogue Mads Lange set up his high-walled “factory” on the beach near Kuta under the protection of the raja of Badung in 1839. His entrepot quickly grew in size and prosperity, trading kepeng bought cheaply in mainland China, for locally grown rice, livestock and other produce, which he sold in Singapore and to the Dutch in Java. 


The Dutch themselves, who had by the middle of the nineteenth century successfully gained control of other parts of the archipelago and its trade routes, were at first not particularly interested in Bali. It’s peoples’ reputation for savagery helped keep them at bay. 


Lange’s hefty profits may have been the impetus for the Dutch East Indies’ eventually successful military invasion of the northern Balinese kingdom of Buleleng in 1849.
Once defeat was imminent, rather than surrender, the Sultan and his retinue committed ritual suicide or puputan. 


Following this the Dutch established their own port at Singaraja. Then a little under sixty years later, after several failed negotiations with the Sultans of the southern Balinese kingdoms and another embarrassing military defeat, the Dutch finally seized control of the whole island. And once again, conquest was accompanied by mass suicides, first at Badung in 1906, then at Klungkung in 1908. 


Tourism in Bali 



Shocked by these puputans, rather than establishing a plantation system as they had done in Java and exploiting the Balinese people for labour, the Dutch embarked on a program of “Balinisation”- a cultural preservation policy that set out to maintain Bali as a kind of open air museum hermetically sealed from the outside influence. Then shortly afterwards, in 1913, following the cue of a few intrepid travelers and photographers of bare breasted women, the first tourists were granted entry as part of highly organized package tours. 


Thus, the tourism industry and the idea of paradise were conceived, both of which expanded in the decades that followed, itineraries evading the strict control of the Dutch, with the first hotel on Kuta beach constructed in 1936 by Hollywood exiles Bob and Louise Koke, who were also the first to surf its waves. 


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