Traditional Balinese script alive and well in Singaraja

Basa Bali (Balinese) is traditionally written in a script called aksara, which bears no resemblence to western script. Driving around Bali you will see ‘Matur Suksma’ (thank you) written on stone markers at the edge of a village. This will be paired with its aksara equivalent. You will also see the traditional script on temples. Many Balinese people can read aksara, but in Singaraja, there is an especially high percentage of young people who understand the ancient script. Here’s more from the Jakarta Post.

Young Balinese, media keep their language alive

Features – August 31, 2006

I Wayan Juniartha, The Jakarta Post, Denpasar It’s a rare thing when a young girl lets her friends take a peek at her diary.

However, one sleepy Monday afternoon, Gayatri enthusiastically gave her friends more than just a peek. Her twinkling eyes suggested that her action was not simply a narcissistic ego trip.

She opened a page and displayed it. To their amazement, her friends could not instantly comprehend the personal narration written in it.

It turned out the entire page was filled with traditional Balinese aksara script. It took a few seconds for them to make the necessary adjustments. However, just when they were about to get the meaning of the first paragraph, Gayatri swooped down on them and snapped the book shut.

“Hey, I just want to show you aksara, not my innermost secrets,” she barked. She explained to her peers how Balinese language and script had increasingly become the funkiest medium of communication for teenagers in her hometown, Singaraja, the capital of Bali’s dynamic and egalitarian northern regency, Buleleng.

Her friends, most of them born in the island’s capital, Denpasar, have grown up within a linguistic context dominated by Bahasa Indonesia and Jakarta dialects on TV. They found her spoken Balinese acutely intriguing as well as enlightening.




“In Singaraja, being hip means that you must be able to communicate fluently in Balinese and through aksara,” she stressed. Of course, there were other reasons for selecting such an ancient medium. By using traditional language and script, a group of teenagers could present itself as a unique entity as well as provide its members a secure means of communication.

“Some groups have even created new terms, expressions and acronyms that can only be understood by other group members,” she said. The trend also seems to have a stronger underlying explanation than simply being a desire by the young to be different. To a growing number of Balinese, the language and aksara are seen as a critical element in their struggle to maintain their ethnic identity and pride.

“If we lose the language and aksara it will be impossible to maintain the integrity of our culture and civilization. Furthermore, we would have to abandon our hopes in a renaissance of this great tradition,” writer Mas Ruscitadewi said.

Separately, poet Cok Sawitri stated that the Balinese language and aksara were the primary repository of Balinese civilization’s wisdom and spiritual teachings. “Without the ability to read, write and speak the language and use aksara, one wouldn’t be able to access the wisdoms written in the ancient palmyra lontar manuscripts.

“Such an inability would be tantamount to throwing away the only cultural and spiritual compass this island has ever possessed,” she said. Ruscitadewi and Sawitri are among a number of young Balinese intellectuals who recently embarked on a mission to save the Balinese language and aksara.

With generous assistance provided by Satria Naradha, a media tycoon on the island, they launched Bali Orti, a four-page weekly published in Balinese language.

“Bali Orti is specifically designed to boost the modern image of the Balinese language. We want to show that this traditional language can cope with modern issues and challenges,” said the weekly’s principal designer I Wayan Gunasta.

By doing so, Gunasta added, he hoped that the weekly would appeal to the tastes of both old and young Balinese. In its initial stages, the weekly is published as a supplement to the Sunday edition of Bali Post. Yet, hope is high that within a year it has generated sufficient readership to be launched as an independent weekly. Detailed discussions are under way on how to provide more space for Balinese aksara.

“Bali Orti is our way of saying that we are very serious in our effort to preserve our rich cultural heritage,” said Satria Naradha.
He was indeed very serious. So serious, that the Bali Orti team was given the editorial freedom to operate beyond the Bali Post’s usual boundaries.

“Never before in the history of the Post has a supplement been designed and created by a team that included not only Post journalists but also those from other newspapers, plus scholars and literary figures,” Sawitri said.

“Interestingly, it’s a group without a specific employment contract nor financial remuneration. It’s ‘a coalition of the willing’,” she added. Previously, the island witnessed the birth of several magazines in Balinese, including Kulkul (Denpasar), Canang Sari (Gianyar) and Buratwangi (Karangasem). All focused on literary issues and did not have the necessary financial and circulation support from an established, mainstream media organization.

For I Made Sanggra, one of the most respected Balinese writers, Bali Orti is a dream come true. On the day the first edition of Bali Orti hit newsstands across the island, the frail, decorated war veteran-turned-literary sage called Ruscitadewi.

“Thank you for giving me such a wonderful birthday gift,” he said.
Ruscitadewi broke into joyous tears. So did half of the Bali Orti team. For Gayatri, however, Bali Orti is further proof of what she stressed was an ancient adage, which claims that the island’s cultural transformation started in Buleleng.

“One day, we, teenagers from Buleleng, wrote an innocent note in Balinese and — boom! — Bali Orti has been launched here. I mean, you — Denpasar people — just love to copy our every move, don’t you?” she said, with a mischievous grin.