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Through the Eyes of Researcher: Balineseness  

by on Friday, 17 October 2008No Comment | 900 views


Here is an excerpt taken from thesis written by Pamela Allen and Carmencita Palermo, entitled “Ajeg Bali: Multiple Meanings, Diverse Agendas”. This excerpt discuss about Balinese identity or “Balineseness” as the author put it.

Much has been written about discourses of kebalian or ‘Balineseness’. Most suchcommentaries have focused on the nexus between religion, adat (custom), culture andtourism. Picard (1999: 21), for example, suggests that Balinese identity ‘is the outcome of a process of semantic borrowing and conceptual recasting’ that the Balinese have had to make ‘in response to the colonization, the Indonesianization and the touristification of their island’. Vickers (1989) devotes about a third of his groundbreaking book on the ‘creation’ of Bali to the idea of image-making in and of Bali, not only by Europeans but also by the Balinese themselves.

From colonial times through Suharto’s New Order (1966-98) to post-Suharto reformasi, a consistent Balinese response to the ‘colonization, Indonesianization and touristification’ alluded to by Picard has been the development of strategies to defend the island from so-called external ‘bad influences’. Traditional values have been drawn upon at critical moments, the rationale being that the revivification of old principles will restore balance and order. It is a process referred to by some as the ‘retreat into ritual’ (Couteau 2003). The reconstruction of the past is thus a time-honoured practice in Bali. In the 1920s the Balinese intelligentsia drew upon Hindu values in an effort to reform the Balinese religion and redefine the concept of culture. This effort had its first concrete results when Bali, as part of the Republic of Indonesia, was required to have a universal religion: in 1958 the Balinese religion was recognized by the Ministry of Religion as a branch of Hinduism, with the name Agama Hindu Bali (Hindu Balinese religion). In 1965 it wasrenamed Agama Hindu (Hinduism; see Picard 2004).

A more concrete formulation and application of traditional Hindu values occurred in the1970s and 1980s through the work of Professor Doctor Ida Bagus Mantra, the Governor of Bali, who aimed to build a Balinese identity deemed suitable to be part of the Republic of Indonesia. He adopted a ‘return to roots’ approach that advocated a strengthening of Balinese religion by looking back to its Indian origins, and at the same time presented Balinese Hinduism to the world as a part of international Hinduism (Vickers 1989: 212). His politics made a great contribution to shaping the social and economic structure of the island as we now know it.

The Kuta bombings of 12 October 2002 represented a defining moment for many Balinese. The media made much of the event as an important moment for Balinese to reflect on themselves: they must have done something very wrong to cause such a terrible calamity, bringing destruction and imbalance to the island. In such an atmosphere of desperation and uncertainty about the future, the only safe anchor is perceived to be the past, a past of traditional Hindu values based on culture and religion and which is able to re-establish the harmonious order in which mankind is One with the rest of the universe.

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