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The Importance of Past in Balinese Life  

by on Saturday, 20 January 2007No Comment | 2,205 views

Past is something that cannot be separated from Balinese life. It penetrates deep into all aspect of Balinese everyday life. The position of a Balinese in his community, in socio-cultural life of the community, in religious activities in the temples is depend mainly on his past and point of origin.

The foremost researcher on Balinese socio-cultural life, Henk Schulte Nordholt in his work entitled “Origin, Descent, and Destruction: Text and Context in Balinese Representations of the past“, gives a better light on this account:

“Even today, many aspects of Balinese life are firmly rooted in the past. Whether it concerns religious concepts, temples, someone’s health or status, or political relationships, the truth about the order of things can only be found(ed) in the past. The Old-Javanese kakawin classics are in this respect “extremely true” because they are seen as the oldest texts in which an eternal truth is revealed that exists “beyond the realm of the senses.”

“As in many other societies, in Bali origin and descent are dynamic concepts that are used to structure the political order and articulate social differentiation.”


“If you ask a Balinese who he is, he will probably first tell you what he is: he will clarify what his position, or linggih is by mentioning the (kind of) descent group to which he belongs. Balinese identify themselves in general by referring in terms of time and place to an ancestor in a distant past, and a point of origin (kawitan) which is often materialized in a temple shrine.”

“If a Balinese does not know where his kawitan (point of origin) is, he often does not know who his ancestor is, and, hence, neither what nor who he himself is. Under these circumstances, his position within the social hierarchy is obscure and he may feel disoriented (paling) and even seriously ill.”

“The kawitan (point of origin) is in this respect a point of reference in life, for it is in this spot that the progeny meet their ancestor, and their position in life is firmly “anchored” in the past. In order to know one’s relationship with a specific ancestor or kawitan (point of origin), and to commemorate this, many descent groups—nobles as well as commoners—possess a genealogical narrative, or babad, in which their origin and descent are explained. Both kawitan and babad form the linkages between the ancestor and the present; they are vehicles for group identity.”


Though the western scientists has long been recognized that the babad (genealogical narrative) of Bali is unreliable as conventional historical sources; since it is arranged according to other criterions than strictly chronological ones, has a strongly legitimizing purpose and a precise dates are rarely found in the babad (genealogical narrative) texts. The Balinese consider the babad (genealogical narrative) as valid historical record and sacred text that its truth cannot be challenged.

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