Bali’s History

Natural History:
During the last Ice age the islands of Sumatra, Java and Bali were connected. Bali and Lombok however remained separated by the 1,300m deep Lombok Strait. Biologist Alfred Russel Wallace was the first to document this fact, the division becoming known as the Wallace Line. The distance between Bali and Lombok is small, a matter of only about 35 kilometers. The distributions of many bird species observe the line, as many birds refuse to cross even the smallest stretches of open water. Many volant (flying) mammals (i.e., bats) have distributions that cross the Wallace Line, but non-volant species are usually limited to one side or the other, with a few exceptions (e.g., rodents). Various taxa in other groups of plants and animals show differing patterns, but the overall pattern is striking and reasonably predictable.

An understanding of the biogeography of the region centers on ancient sea levels, and the continental shelves; Wallace’s Line is visible when one examines the sea contours, and can be seen as a deep-water channel which marks the southeastern edge of the Sunda Shelf linking Borneo, Bali, Java and Sumatra to the mainland of southeastern Asia. Australia, on the other hand, is united broadly with New Guinea, in the Sahul Shelf. At times when sea levels were lower, what are now islands were exposed and joined as continuous land masses, but the deep water between these two large shelf areas was — for a period in excess of 50 million years — a barrier that kept the flora and fauna of Australia largely separate from that of Asia.
The Wallace Line: Division between Asia and Australasia

Ancient history:
The earliest humans in Bali arrived approximately 40,000 years ago. The bones of homo erectus dating back 500,000 years have been found in Bali and Java. The earliest humans in Bali were hunter-gatherers who lived in caves.

Around 3,000 years BC, during the neolithic era, stone tools appeared of a superior quality, along with pottery and newer farming methods. Bronze tools came into being during the 7th & 8th Centuries BC. One of finest examples of Balinese bronze casting is the Moon of Pejeng, a 2 meter diameter drum, the largest in SE Asia located at Pura Penataran Sasih.

Balinese Hinduism:
Bali is truly unique, in that it is the only Hindu island in Indonesia, a country dominated by Islam. Hinduism is a religion that developed out of the way of life of the people living on the banks of the Indus river in India and Hinduism came to Indonesia many centuries ago. The earliest written records in Bali, metal inscriptions called prasasti (Prasasti Blanjong is an example), speak of Buddhist and Hindu influences and date back to the 9th century AD. The caves, statues and bronzes of Goa Gajah and Gunung Kawi indicate this too.

As far as Bali is concerned the 3 big events that pushed Hinduism to the fore were the marriage of the Balinese king Udayana to Princess Mahendra from East Java, at the end of the 10th century thus bringing the 2 areas together. This was followed in 1343 by the conquest of Bali by the Majapahit empire of Gajah Mada, prime minister of that kingdom in East Java. Finally in 1515 the Majapahit empire in Java fell to the increasingly powerful Muslim Mataram empire. This created an exodus of priests, crafts people and noblemen and helped to make Bali the unique center of art that it is.

As many people will tell you the version of Hinduism (Agama Hindu ) that is practiced in Bali differs from that practiced in India. One of the most obvious differences is the quantity of offerings given in Bali, which is usually to either ward off evil spirits or to satisfy the Gods, a relic of the Balinese animist beliefs to which Hinduism has been melded.

Colonial history:
Bali first appeared on European radar in the 1588, when the Portuguese, who were in the process of controlling Indian Ocean trade, sent a ship from the port of Malacca in what is now Malaysia. Upon reaching Bali the ship hit a reef, many of the survivors drowning, but some surviving. The dewa agung treated the newcomers well but did not allow them to leave the island. That was pretty much the end of the Portuguese exploration of Bali.

The Dutch were the next to attempt to explore the archipelago and on April 2nd 1595, 4 ships left Holland commanded by Commodore Cornelius Houtman. The group reached Bali on February 9th 1597 and anchored at Kuta. Houtman sent 3 men ashore to report on the island. One of these men was Aernoudt Lintgens, credited with the first western account of Bali. The other 2 men decided at first not to return to the ship, with 1 eventually returning, the other choosing to stay in Bali.

This brief visit was followed by another in 1601, under the leadership of Cornelius Heemskerk, who brought with him a formal request for trade relations, from the prince of Holland. In return for the letter, the dewa agung wrote his reply on a lontar palm leaf, accepting mutual trade between Bali and Holland.

Indonesian Independence:
Indonesia attained independence from Holland in a long struggle during the 1940’s. When the Japanese invaded Indonesia in February 1942 the Dutch were forced to flee, or be captured. After the war was over Indonesia made it Declaration of Independence on August 17th 1945, with Sukarno as the first President.

The Dutch had other idea though and returned in March 1946. They fought in many famous skirmishes with the Balinese, including the massacre of Balinese hero Gusti Ngurah Rai, and managed to take back control of Bali. Nations around the world were not sympathetic to the Dutch position and in 1949 they withdrew to allow the formation of The Republic of Indonesia in 1950.

The Suharto Era:
Suharto was President of Indonesia for over 30 years. While his focus was not Bali, there is no doubt he had a huge impact on Bali and the rest of Indonesia. While much of the western world was struggling with the Cold War, Indonesia has its own internal struggle against Communism. Some estimates say 100,000 Balinese were killed in the first couple of years during Suharto’s presidency.

Suharto seized power from his predecessor, the first president of Indonesia Sukarno, through a mixture of force and political maneuvering against the backdrop of foreign and domestic unrest. Over the three decades of his “New Order” regime, Suharto constructed a strong central government along militarist lines. An ability to maintain stability and an avowedly anti-Communist stance won him the economic and diplomatic support of several Western governments in the era of the Cold War. For most of his three-decade rule, Indonesia experienced significant economic growth and industrialization. His rule, however, led to political purges and the deaths of millions of Indonesian communists and Chinese-Indonesians, and enaction of legislation outlawing communist parties and ethnic Chinese in government.

By the 1990s, however, his New Order administration’s authoritarian and increasingly corrupt practices became a source of much discontent. Suharto’s almost unquestioned authority over Indonesian affairs slipped dramatically when the Asian financial crisis lowered Indonesians’ standard of living and fractured his support among the nation’s military, political and civil society institutions. After internal unrest, diplomatic isolation began to drain his support in the mid-to-late 1990s, Suharto was forced to resign from the presidency in May 1998 following mass demonstrations.

History of Bali tourism:
Tourism in Bali started as a trickle in the 1930’s. Getting to Bali from Europe or N.America meant trans-oceanic voyages on steam ships, finally arriving at Buleleng, modern day Singaraja, which was already a trading port complete with Javanese, Arabs, Chinese and Europeans. Westerners were captivated by the ‘paradise lost’ image created by popular novels and reports by early visitors. Among the first expats in Bali was the German artist Walter Spies, who images of semi-clad Balinese tending rice fields helped create a mystique.

Mass tourism in the real sense started with surfers and hippies in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Undiscovered surfing breaks such as Uluwatu and white sand beaches on Padangbai and Candi Dasa, put Bali firmly on the hippie-trail and the surfing map. Kuta Beach was the epicenter of this new found awareness, with bamboo guest houses (losman) and warungs catering, on a basic level to the customers. Tourism numbers reached their peak in 1998 and the industry as a whole has changed from budget tourists to accommodate a more luxury market.

Bali Tourist Development Corporation: Organized tourism in Bali:
Tourism in Bali has progressed along a somewhat unguided path but one of the times where planning was at a premium was the creation of the Bali Tourist Development Corporation (BTDC). The BTDC was formed in 1972 by the Indonesian government at the recommendation of overseas consultants. The plan was to develop the area on the eastern side of the Bukit Peninsula at Nusa Dua.

The Bukit is sparsely populated and makes for poor farmland. It does however have a great location for resorts, being flat, expansive and on the beach. Nusa Dua was supposed to draw high-end tourists and the builders, hotel chains and BTDC were to benefit.

Nusa Dua has flourished with new resorts such as the Conrad leading the way. The BTDC really gave the impetus to developing the 300 hectare resort area at Nusa Dua, which has 4,500 hotel rooms. Nusa Dua gets its water from 60 meter wells that are sunk in the limestone. The area is not really a reflection of what Bali offers but does provide a place away from reality for those looking for relaxation.

The 2002 Bali Bombing:
At 23:05 (15:05 UTC) on 12 October 2002, a suicide bomber inside the nightclub Paddy’s Pub detonated a bomb in his backpack, causing many patrons, with or without injuries, to immediately flee into the street. Fifteen seconds later, a second and much more powerful car bomb hidden inside a white Mitsubishi van, was detonated by another suicide bomber outside the Sari Club, located opposite Paddy’s Pub. The van was also rigged for detonation by remote control in case the second bomber had a sudden change of heart. Damage to the densely populated residential and commercial district was immense, destroying neighbouring buildings and shattering windows several blocks away. The car bomb explosion left a one meter deep crater.

The local Sanglah hospital was ill-equipped to deal with the scale of the disaster and was overwhelmed with the number of injured, particularly burn victims. There were so many people injured by the explosion that some of the injured had to be placed in hotel pools near the explosion site to ease the pain of their burns. Many of the injured were flown to the relatively close proximity of Darwin and Perth for specialist burns treatment. In all 202 people were killed in the Kuta bombings. The effect on the tourist industry was massive, with many Australians declaring they would never set foot in Bali again. The local economy suffered greatly and many local businesses went bankrupt, locals sometimes returning to their village to farm rice. The economy was slowly recovering when a second bombing occurred in 2005.

The 2005 Bali Bombing:
The 2005 Bali bombings were a series of terrorist suicide bomb attacks that occurred on October 1, 2005, in Bali, Indonesia. Bombs exploded at two sites in Jimbaran and Kuta, both in south Bali. Twenty people were killed, and 129 people were injured by three bombers who killed themselves in the attacks.

The Indonesian national news agency, ANTARA, reported that the first two explosions occurred at 6:50 p.m. local time, near a Jimbaran food court and the third at 7:00 pm. in Kuta Town Square. Other reports claim that the blasts occurred at around 7:15 p.m. At least 3 blasts have been reported.

One of the blasts was at Raja’s in Kuta Square. Another two bombs exploded at warungs along the Jimbaran beach, one of which was near the Four Seasons Hotel. Police later said they had found three unexploded bombs in Jimbaran. They had apparently failed to go off after the security forces hastily shut down the island’s mobile telephone network following the first blasts.

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty said that the bombs used appear to have differed from previous blasts in that most deaths and injuries had been inflicted by shrapnel, rather than chemical explosion. A medical officer’s x-rays showed foreign objects described as “pellets” in many victims’ bodies and a victim reported ball bearings lodged in her back.

The bombings occurred the same day that Indonesia cut its fuel subsidies resulting in gas prices rising by 125% and just two days before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and 11 days before the third anniversary of the 2002 Bali bombing. The attack came during the school holiday period in some states of Australia, when an estimated 7,500 Australians are believed to have been visiting Bali. The 2005 Bali bombing also greatly affected the island’s economy, which took over a year to get back on track.

People in Balinese History:
Great Bali writers past & present
Arie Smit
Bob Koke & Louise Garret
Mads Lange
Gusti Ngurah Rai
Walter Spies
Miguel Covarrubias
Adrien Jean Le Mayeur de Merpes
The Life of Ni Wayan Murni:
Schapelle Corby
Antonio Blanco
Donald Friend
Janet DeNeefe
Gusti Ngurah Rai

Bali Historical Items:
Traditional Weaving in Tengenan
Puputan: Balinese ritual mass suicide
History of Klungkung Bali
Lombok History
Denpasar History
White Raja Of Bali
Opium Trading

Candi Dasa
History Of the Spice Islands I
History Of the Spice Islands II
Islam wasn’t sharp enough to convert the Balinese
Tabanan Bali
Puputan: Balinese ritual mass suicide
Balinese history: Pan & Men Brayut
Legend of Tenganan
Tenganan: Bali Aga village
History of Klungkung Bali
Bali’s neighbor: Lombok history
Candi Dasa History