Puputan: Balinese ritual mass suicide


Balinese history has been largely influenced by outsiders. One group of outsiders, who have a history of violence and destruction, wherever they went were the Europeans. One of the bloodiest events in Balinese history occurred in Denpasar on September 20th, 1906, when the raja of Badung (the southern regency in Bali), Gusti Gede Ngurah came to the conclusion, that his court could no longer suffer under Dutch rule and ordered a mass suicide, the ritual puputan.

The source of the problem was the plundering of a ship, the Sri Kumala, which had floundered on Sanur reef. Locals had relieved it of copper and silver coins, but the Chinese owner was not happy. Complaining to the ruling Dutch, he convinced them a blockage on Badung was necessary, demanding the raja come up with compensation. This tactic was followed by military threats and a troop landing in Sanur. On September 20th, 1906, the Dutch troops reached Denpasar and the raja knew the time was up. A westerner might think the 2 options would be fight or flee, but Balinese tradition provided a 3rd option, which the raja chose. An account by Dr. Van Weede, a Dutch observer, details the scene that took place.

The ruler and the princes with their followers, dressed in their glittering attire, with their krises girded on, of which the golden hilts were in the form of Buddha statues and studded with precious stones: all of them were dressed in red or black and their hair was carefully combed, moistened with fragrant oils. The women were wearing the best clothes and accessories that they had; most of them wore their hair loose and all had white cloaks. The prince had his palace burned down and had everything that was breakable destroyed.

When at nice o’clock it was reported to him that the enemy had penetrated Denpasar from the North, the tragic procession of 250 people started to move; each man and woman carried a kris or long lance, also the children who had the strength to do it, while the babies were carried in their arms. Thus they walked to the north along the wide road bordered by tall trees, meeting their destruction.

The prince walked in front, carried on the shoulders by his followers according to custom, and silently…. until all of sudden, at a turning in the road, the dark line of our infantry was visible before them. Immediately a halt was commanded and Captain Schutstal ordered the interpreters to summon the arriving party to a halt with gestures and with words. However these summons were in vain, and in spite of the repeated warnings the Balinese went over to a trot.

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Incessantly the Captain and the interpreters made signs, but it was in vain. Soon they had to realize that they had to do with people who wanted to die. They let them approach to a hundred paces, eighty, seventy paces, but now they went over to a double quick step with couched lances and raised krises, the prince always in front.

A longer delay would have been irresponsible in view of the safety of our men, and the first salvo was given; several killed men remained at the place. One of the first to fall was the ruler; and now one of the most horrible scenes one could imagine took place.

While those who were saved continued the attack, and the shooting on our part for self defense remained necessary, one saw lightly wounded give the death-blow to the heavily wounded. Women held out their breasts to be killed or received the death blow between their shoulders, and those who did this were mowed down by our rifle fire, other men and women got up to continue the bloody work. Also suicides took place there on a big scale, and all seemed to yearn for their death: some women threw as a reward for the violent death which they desired from them gold coins to the soldiers, and stood straight up in front of them, pointing at their heart, as if they wanted to be hit there; if no shot was fired they killed themselves. Especially an old man was busily stepping over the corpses, and used his kris left and right until he was shot down. An old woman took his task and underwent the same fate, however, nothing helped. Always others got up to continue the work of destruction.

Other puputans occurred in Pamecutan the same day and Klungkung in 1908.

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