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Chinese Coin and Balinese Culture and Religion  

by on Thursday, 9 October 2008No Comment | 1,434 views

Here is an interesting excerpt from a paper, which is entitled Revaluing Uang Kepeng as a Medium of Local Exchange in Bali, written by Stephen De Meulenaere, an Asia Coordinator of Strohalm Foundation for Integrated Economics (Holland).

pisbolong

Uang Kepeng (Chinese coin) contributed to the internal development of the arts in Bali. With their own currency, and their collective ability in the Banjar (hamlet organization) to determine how it should be used, communities could generate a surplus of Uang Kepeng and choose to direct it towards the arts, without being dependent on external donors. This led to a diverse and vibrant culture, with marked cultural distinctions and specialization between communities.

Uang Kepeng plays a very important role in Balinese cosmology and sense of cosmic harmony as a way of mediating the balance between opposing forces in religion and society. For this reason, Uang Kepeng is highly valued in religious ceremonies and art works. The Balinese produce beautiful handmade offerings to the Gods, and special offerings will include a few Uang Kepeng in them. Ceremonies to mark the completion of a building, or for purification of a place, require contributions of Uang Kepeng which are offered, buried or burned.

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Uang Kepeng is also used in the creation of holy statues. One kind of statue, called the
Rambut Sedana which symbolizes the generosity of God, is made of up to 15,000 Chinese coins. An ukur, on the other hand, is a small effigy made of at least 108 coins, which is burned together with the body of the deceased in the Ngaben cremation ceremony. In December 2003, the Bali Heritage Trust, a foundation dedicated to the preservation and strengthening of Balinese culture, held a conference on “Preserving Uang Kepeng as A Medium of Religious Ceremony in Bali”. Although the main concern of the conference was dealing with the shortage of Uang Kepeng as a medium of ceremony, numerous references were made to the use of Uang Kepeng as a medium of exchange. Dr. Ida Bagus Sidemen, author of a book on the historical value of Uang Kepeng, pointed to the need to study the twofold use of Uang Kepeng as a medium of exchange and medium of ceremony, as this relates to the valuation of Uang Kepeng.

The concern is that by producing new Uang Kepeng for ceremonies, the deeper valuation of Uang Kepeng, as something that has real value and importance in people’s lives may be lost. Most people agree that new Uang Kepeng is not nearly as valuable as old Uang Kepeng. Old Uang Kepeng carries the historical value, but how can new Uang Kepeng be re-valued?

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Revaluing Uang Kepeng requires giving it economic meaning to people again, by re –issuing it as a medium of local exchange. Producing Uang Kepeng for local use increases its value, and as a medium of exchange the supply will be much larger than if it was only purchased to make an art object or satisfy cultural use. In addition to this, it ensures that the production of Uang Kepeng remains local, and not dependent upon external sources.

Thus the re -issuance of Uang Kepeng would strengthen cultural diversity and vitality in Bali,
thereby contributing to a sustainable culture. As each community could differentiate itself in
its cultural development, the overall culture of Bali will be more diversified and vibrant.

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