Banjar Bali: Village level government

pecalangEvery area in Bali is run by a local banjar with the male heads of each family representing each family. This traditional town council meets twice a month at the banjar pavilion in a central location, close to the pura desa, or village temple.

What is the banjar
The banjar are adjudicators of adat, traditional law and determine dates for religious events, collect money for ceremonies, allocate temple maintenance, oversee land sales and on occasion hand out summary punishment to troublemakers.

How the banjar fits in with Balinese village structure
Bali is dived into kabupaten (districts), kecamatan (municipalities) and kelurahan / desa (villages). Traditionally a banjar will control a desa, more accurately the inhabited land. The sawah (rice-fields) are governed by the subak, another integral part of Bali’s social system. The subak will determine when a farmer can flood his fields and its primary role is the control of water, since Bali’s economy and culture depend on the production of rice. Both the banjar and the subak each with their temples and organizations.

Balinese villages have an organizational structure. If you look into the family compounds you will see red tiles roofs, various family bale structures and other familiar buildings. You will also see the same family temples (sanggah/merajan). A large tree will indicate the banjar pavilion, with 2 slit logs hanging from the branches, as well as religious shrines. This is where the banjar meets to discuss important village issues and is a community meeting place. Banjar means ‘neighborhood’ and people feel this place is where they can come and feel at one with the community.

Banjar society
Membership to the banjar is mandatory for each Balinese married man. The banjar has its own system of lending locals money for equipment. At the banjar pavilion everyone takes a turn at cooking, cleaning and performing menial duties. The leader of the banjar is elected and approved by the gods via a medium.

The basic social unit of the banjar is the pekurenan (couple). Only Balinese married couples are full banjar members and subjected to the banjar rights and obligations. Foreigners or other Indonesians cannot join the banjar as it is tied up with Balinese culture and the Agama Hindu religion. All banjar meetings are conducted in Basa Bali (Balinese language). The decisions are taken by the sangkep (assembly) of the banjar’s male members, the krama banjar, which often occurs every 35 days.

Most ceremonies, at the level of the family or of other local temples, cannot take place before a pejati (“notification offering”) at the kahyangan tiga. The most important is probably the pura desa, or village temple. Its god, Batara Desa, is usually given the forefront position during the village processions of gods. The desa pekraman (village community) is in reality also the congregation of the pura desa, whatever the other affiliations. It is headed by the bendesa adat.




Much of the ritual work at the village level is shared among the various banjar, for example, More than participate in upacara (ceremonies). One banjar may look after the pura desa for the upcoming festival and another banjar for the one after. Banjars will redistribute the work entrusted to it, via the kelian banjar or neighborhood headman. All ritual activity will need his involvement before it can take place.

The desa (village) usually has three village temples, the kahyangan tiga, each positioned according to adat (traditional law and custom) and relating to the village’s symbolic life: The pura puseh (temple of origin, representing the village founder and also called the navel temple) is located towards Gunung Agung. This is where the important gods of the village and its founders are worshiped; The pura desa (village temple), is located in the center of the village, where meetings of the village assembly and the rituals of fertility are held; the pura dalem (temple of the dead), located toward the ocean, domain of the demons, is where the forces of death are worshiped. Cremation ceremonies take place here and the graveyard, for bodies awaiting cremation is also here. Besides these territorial temples, there is also a temple for each banjar (bedogol or pura banjar), a temple for each subak, and the various temples of the local sub – groups (pura dadia or pura panti), each one having its own calendar of festivals.

All temples of the kahyangan tiga (pura peseh or ‘temple of origin’, pura desa or ‘village temple’ and pura dalem or ‘temple of the dead’) are a vital part of all local rituals.

Banjar decision making
The decisions are taken on the basis of unanimous agreement, unlike the western ideal of ‘winner takes all’ (majority rule), The banjar has been, since 1979, recognized by the Indonesian government and is the lowest administrative structure of the national administration. Fitting in directly under the authority of the perbekel / lurah (supra – village head) and beyond the traditional bendesa adat (village head).

There are also two types of kelian banjar, the kelian dinas, who is in charge of the administrative aspects of the banjar life, and the kelian adat, who looks after the customary aspects in collaboration with the bendesa adat. They usually work together, unless the two roles are fulfilled by one person.

Modern day banjars
The banjar has anywhere from fifty and two hundred individual family compounds. The word banjar originally meant a row of houses, the clustering of compounds into a neighborhood, with a temple and a community. Nowadays, most of these banjars have split, and the banjar community is no more strictly territorial. Two banjars can occupy the same territory, and banjar members sometimes live far from the center of community. In densely populated areas such as Denpasar and Kuta, there are many banjars and they don’t always get along, especially when residents choose to leave one banjar for another.

Sharing the joy & pain
The banjar has an association called the ‘banjar suka duka‘ which means ‘the association for the sharing of joy and pain’. This relates to the function played by the group in the organizing specific social services or work called ayahan. Every banjar member has responsibilities in helping help the temple clean, preparing for ceremonies, providing funds and offerings. These responsibilities are some of the most important of all found in the network of village associations and Balinese can get ejected from the banjar if they do not participate.

Effects of the banjar in modern times
The banjar have generally been a good thing for Bali and during the riots in 1999 banjar Kuta patrolled to keep rioting youths from destroying tourist infrastructure. The banjar is the main force that prevents the Balinese becoming a disenfranchised population like some other cultures in the developing world. It insists locals are used for construction and hired as staff. During religious events the banjar will determine what streets are blocked off and this is enforced by the banjar traffic cops, the pecalang. It is the one social group in Bali that has the respect (in some cases fearful respect) of most people. A couple of years ago banjar Seminyak decided to close down all bars and nightclubs for a weekend to make a point. They stayed closed and the point was made.

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