Bali has many interesting cultural quirks and among them are the Christian communities of Blimbingsari & Palasari in west Bali. The story begins during the Dutch occupation when they fully took control of Bali in 1908. Until that time the Dutch operated a policy of cultural non-intervention, allowing the Balinese to conduct their own religious and cultural activities without hinder. Under this framework Christian missionaries were banned from Bali, but by 1932 a representative of the American Christian and Missionary Alliance, Tsang To Hang, has several hundred converts to Christianity. Most of the new Christians were from the Chinese community, but there were also some ethnic Balinese.
The new converts were told to destroy Hindu temples and encourage the Balinese to question the Hindu caste system. This created tension with the Balinese Hindu community who forbade their members from having any contact with the Christians. In 1939 the Dutch decided to banish the Christians to remote areas in the jungle where they would be less able to create religious tensions. The Balinese Protestants carved out a cross-shaped village in the highlands of west Bali named Blimbingsari. Located 30km NW of Negara, the village is going strong today and is set amongst some lovely countryside. In the center of the village is the church, which incorporates elements of a Balinese temple, candi bentar (split gate) at the entrance for example. In from the candi bentar is a Christian version of a kori agung (stone capped gate), traditionally the dividingl ine between the outside world and the inner sanctum of the temple. The kul kul (split-log bell tower) in the corner of the courtyard is similar to a Balinese temple, but it has a cross on the roof. Outside the church is a wooden sign saying “Gereja Kristen Protestan Di Bali” (Protestant Christian Church in Bali) The phone number is (0365)42192 in case you need it. In the center of the small intersection in the village is a stone block with crosses on all sides.
So Blimbimsari is still heavily Christian, even though riding up to the village one will see Muslims attending to their daily needs. This being west Bali, there are a considerable number of Muslims, Java not far away. The whole area around Blimbingsari feels tranquil, a mixture of forest and rice fields. To the north is the village of Ekasari and the reservoir. It occurred to me that this part of Bali would make a great hiking / camping area, sparcely populated with mountains tapering down to the west coast in the background.
Five kilometers SE of Blimbingsari is the Catholic village of Palasari. The church here is even more impressive, again located centrally next to the soccer field. Again the village is very neat a tide with manicured grass verges. Outside the church a couple of locals were selling small models of Jesus, their Chinese heritage an indicator of the past. Again an interesting cultural anomaly here in the highlands of west Bali. The route from Palasari down to the junction with the main road leading to Negara, is lovely. The route is lined with small Balinese villages decked out for Galungan, with penjors hanging for much of the way and family temples decorated in yellowed and white cloth. The lower section of the route down to the main road is untouched land covers with massive palms, a lovely area indeed.
The form of religious practice that occurs at Blimbingsari and Palasari are unique amalgams of Christianity and Balinese culture. Church structure, dress (traditional Balinese costume) offerings, dances etc. all come from Balinese culture, minus the Hindu religion. Inside the church at Blimbinsari this Sunday morning, the congregation sat on chairs and sang hymns to a gamelan accompaniment. A lead female voice created a surreal sound singing a hymn, with a slimmed down gamelan orchestra. Traditional Balinese dancing is practiced on both villages, the characters portrayed coming from the Bible instead of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. For Christians visiting Bali from overseas, a trip to Blimbingsari and Palasari could be an enjoyable affair especially on a Sunday. You might call ahead to find a local contact, who can help you figure things out. Driving time from Kuta is 3 hours, so it might be better to stay somewhere closer, for example Medewi or Negara. There are local homestays in Blimbingsari and one hotel, Taman Wana Villas (0365)40970 (expensive).