Friday, December 10, 2010


Canang Sari
Tooth filling ceremony

Bali's Culture

Dance and drama
Bali, Indonesia is a city that is enriched by cultures of drama and dance. Their dances are in relation to their religion and they exhibit drama through their dance. It is said that the dances that they do are for entertaining or welcoming the gods. These dances are usually carried out to welcome guests or tourists to a place or destination.

There are many different types of dances in Bali, it ranges from a welcome dance called Tari Panyembrama to Legong Trunajaya a dance of love and emotions. Their dances are iconic and they are one of the key highlights of Bali.

Bali’s one day of Silence
We all know that Bali is a place filled with beaches and enriched with culture and religion. One thing that many of us would not know is the way they celebrate the start of the Hindu New Year. They all spend that day in silence and no human and vehicle traffic is allowed on the streets. Flights arriving and departing from Bali would be cancelled as well. It is a day where people stay indoors and reflect. This day is called Nyepi day.

However, there are certain ceremonies and things to do before the Nyepi day. Because Bali’s culture and tradition is directed towards gods, three days before Nyepi day, they clean structures that symbolize God, which is called Melasti. This is to help them mentally focus and become closer to God. All the sacred sculptures or structures must be cleaned up at rivers or oceans in the Melasti ceremony. The water at the rivers or oceans represents nature and purity. The ceremony also cleanses the human spirit of sins and negativity. The Hindus believe that nature and gods are linked and the nature on earth is their way to cleanse themselves and purify their soul.

This is like a standard operating procedure for the Hindus every Hindu New Year. Disney has a similar characteristic in that sense. Every Christmas, Disney would have street performances specifically towards the Christmas theme, the lighting of the Sleeping Beauty’s castle and lastly, fireworks which would always follow after. Tourists or visitors that go to Disneyland can expect this program every year.

Tawur Kesanga (the day before Nyepi)
One day before Nyepi day, exorcism ceremonies are held where it is believed to be a meeting place for demons. This is the day where they expel evil spirits from their lives. What the villages do is that they make structures made of bamboo to symbolize the evil and then set them on fire. These structures are called Ogoh-ogoh.

Nyepi Day consists of 4 rules, which is commonly known as Catur Brata Penyepian. It is the guidelines or framework as to which what can be done and what the Hindus have to refrain from. Such guidelines include not setting fire and cooking meals, fasting is practiced, work is abstained from and also not experiencing any forms of entertainment like listening to the radio or watching television. Nyepi day is a day of silence and it is expected of them to reflect and mediate or pray.

Nyepi day is definitely one of the key features that make Bali special and unique. The people are so focused on their relations with god and their spiritual wellbeing.

Banyu Pinaruh
The Balinese relate themselves very often to their god and are very spiritual. Banyu Pinaruh is one of their many cultures where they cleanse their body from the negative influences and thoughts. They believe that by carrying out this practice, their mind body and soul will be cleansed. Banyu Pinaruh takes place at the rivers or beaches.

Saraswati day is a day where the Balinese celebrate the devotion of the goddess of knowledge, art and science. The day is named after the goddess called Saraswati. She is believed to give human beings the powers of learning, wisdom and speech. Learning is a very important component and her four arms represent the mind, intellect, alertness and ego. The scriptures that she is holding also represent spiritual knowledge.

The Balinese offer books and written materials like scriptures to the goddess. Very often, they sprinkle holy water on them because water is seemed to be a purifying agent. This practice can be held at home, schools and educational institutions and at temples.

The Balinese believe that though modern forms of education is important, it also important for them to have spiritual knowledge. Without spiritual knowledge, it affects the Balinese as individuals and soon, they will lose their culture and their sense of being. In modern times like these, it is getting more difficult for cultures to be sustained.

The traditions of Bali

Bali Tooth Filling Ceremony
This Hindu ritual takes place for individuals who have grown into adulthood. This ceremony aims to remove lust, greed, anger, jealousy and other forms of evil as teeth are symbol of those emotions. By filling the teeth, it cleanses the mind, body and soul of the evil forces. Sangging are professionals who would perform the ceremony.

It has been proved with artifacts that this ceremony has been practiced for over 2000 years. This ceremony is not orginally a Hindu ceremony; however, it has been incorporated into the Hindu belief system which is now practiced by Hindus in Bali.

Canang sari
Canang Sari is a small basket made out of coconut leaf and contains rice and flowers. The Canang Sari is a the simplest household offering that are placed in temples and mostly on the ground along the streets to offer up to the Gods three times in a day. It is believed that by offering the basket filled with these significant items, it brings health and wealth in the family.

Subak and Banjar
The Subak and Banjar are traditional committees. Subak undertakes the task and responsibility of the production of rice. Therefore, they also have to take care of the irrigation system where everyone in the community would get their share of water. The head of the Subak would get his water after everyone has their share.
The Banjar undertakes the task of managing and planning festivals, ceremonies and also cremations in the village. Men are required to join one Banjar after they get married. One Banjar has a membership of fifty to one hundred and they have meetings to organize the events. Every male is a part of one Banjar and it strengthens community ties and encourage bonding and social cohesion.

Manusa Yadnya
This term refers to the rituals and ceremonies performed at every stage of the lives of the Balinese. It starts even before a child is born. The next stage is after birth when he or she reaches puberty and childhood and lastly, when he or she passes away. The ceremony before birth is a major one and it is held on the 210th day of the baby’s first year as a Balinese. Like most of us, the Balinese have first names too. They are namely Wayan or Putu, Mane or Kadek, Nyoman or Komangfor and Ketut for the first, second, third and forth child respectively.

Young Balinese get married at a young age. Mapadik and Ngorod are two forms of marriages that take place. Mapadik is when the family of the groom visits the family of the bride to propose marriage. Ngorod means elopement where the couples would runaway and avoid the parents of the bride to be. They will arrange for another official marriage to take place after eloping.

Their indigenous groups
Very often, we do not hear much about indigenous groups in Indonesia. This is because they have been out of the spotlight and has been fighting for their rights. Due to policy changes and law enforcements, they started to feel that they have been losing their rights. The first Congress of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago or AMAN I, consists of leaders from the different indigenous groups in Indonesia. The issue started when the indigenous people felt that they are losing what is rightfully theirs, like their lands, crops and homes. Instead of the indigenous groups standing up to the government and companies independently, the congress speaks up for them. Representatives come from the indigenous groups like Kalimantan.

Their languages
Their main languages used are Balinese and Bahasa Indonesia. English is now widely spoken as well because of the tourism industry. Bali is developing to suit the tourism industry and their exposures to tourists are constantly increasing. The increased interaction with the tourists from all over the world and also to stay compeptitive in the tourism industry resulted in English being one of the most widely spoken languages. However, it is still considered a foreign language.

Their mode of education
Education is seen as a luxury that only the rich can afford in Indonesia and also in Bali. Primary school education in Indonesia is normally free; however, the students have to bring their own writing materials. Should the families want to further the children’s education after primary school education they have to pay for their education. Many a time, they see it as a financial burden because people tend to be not as well off and education is something that the children have to do without.

It is a norm to see children of young ages working in their fields. They produce rice and other raw materials. Hence, they have little forms of education. They learn their cultures and traditions from their parents and religion from temples and scriptures.

The educational institutions in Bali are of poor physical conditions. Teachers are also unable to provide enough books and writing materials for the students.

Types of Leisure Programmes

Nusa Dua Festival
This festival happens every year to promote the rich culture and traditional art forms of Bali. As the name of the festival suggests, it is held in Nusa Dua. Nusa Dua is one of the more modernized area catered to tourists. The event started in year 2007 where the Bali Tourism Development and Corporation decided to use this festival to promote Bali as a tourism destination. Booths would also be set up to present the products of each province in Indonesia which is to be related to tourism. This festival is a tool to promote the cultures and traditions of Bali and also Indonesia as a whole. Nusa Dua Festival exhibits traditional artforms and perform dances and music through parades too. The costumes worn are eye-catching and the atmosphere is lively. The best part of the festival is that it is free of charge! The locals or tourists can be entertained by the enriching performances and be exposed to different artforms.

Bali Art Festival

The Bali Art Festival is known as Pesta Kesenian Bali (PKB). This festival takes place in the city of Denpasar, for an entire month where performances, cultural activities and parades would be carried out. People all over Bali would come together for this festival to immerse themselves in dance, music and cultural beauty. Dance schools in Denpasar, Bali would perform as well.

Galungan Holy Day in Bali
This is the day where the people of Bali honour and pray to their ancestors and those who have passed away. They do this once in every 210 days which is also known as a Balinese year. It is believed that the departed would come back to earth, where their family temples are located where they are honoured or celebrated.

Bali would be colourfully decorated and the people will try to head back to their homeland to attend the celebration of the departed. This celebration has a span of 3 days where rituals and practices would be conducted. People spend on offerings to symbolize the pampering and respect given to the departed.

Kuningan in Bali
This private festival is carried out after the Galungan Holy day. Most of the events and festivals in Bali that are carried out are open to public and they perform rituals where people can participate in. Kuningan, however, is a more personal event that is celebrated at the shrines of the temples of the family and in their own homes. Yellow Rice is offered to the ancestors and also to the Gods to respect them. On this day, families come together and pray to their ancestors and the Gods to give them their blessings and to pray for good health. It also marks the end of the 10 days where the Gods are believed to have decended from heaven during the start of Galungan Holy Day.

What is Indonesia known for?

Indonesia is known for many things like their culture and traditions. Previously, they had a reputation for slavery, however, things have changed and they are aggressively promoting themselves as an ideal tourist destination. They are also famous for their traditional dances that are in relation to their gods. The costumes that they wear for the dances are very well-known and iconic that tourists also like to dress up like them. Bali is specifically promoting itself as a tourist destination. There are many volcanoes and scenic beaches that are simply breath-taking. Their beaches are excellent for sea sports like surfing, diving and jetskiing. A common sight would be vendors moving around with their goods along the beach, trying to sell their items to tourists.

Bali is a popular tourism destination where tourists can seek culture exposure and experience the Balinese style in terms of food, lifestyle and also the signature balinese massages.

The “Disney” in the Bali

Bali is constantly evolving itself to cater to the tourism industry. They are building sculptures or statues that are seen as degrading the authentic Balinese culture. A specific example would be the statue of the Garuda bird that claims to be the largest in the world. The locals feel that their home is becoming more like a theme park where building the biggest sculptures would attract tourists to come. It is expected to see that the statue would be one of the tourism highlights to attract people to come. Like Disney, coming up with new or improved attractions is one of the many ways to attract visitors and staying competitive in the tourism industry.

Another way that Bali is experiencing disneyfication is that their performances, dances and ceremonies are staged. The locals were encouraged to express certain emotions and images to the tourists by their government. It was stated in ( ) that “The government constantly urges the people to smile and make their traditional ceremonies extra lavish to please the visitors, so much so that many communities have run up hefty debts trying to outdo the neighbours.” Bali is seen to perform extravagent ceremonies with the intention of pleasuring the tourists more than for praying or showing respect to the gods for religious purposes.

Disney culture is seen as a happy place where people of all ages can come and explore a magical land, where things are very different from reality. Bali is conforming itself to a paradise island, a place where its different from the realities of life. Their dances and ceremonies are losing their authenticity to align themselves with the 21 tourist zones that the government is planning to divide the island into.

Balinese are also seen to be wearing their traditional dresses only when they have tourists or foreign visitors coming to their homes. This is similar to Disney’s culture where when tourists come, they put on their costumes and “act” their part when it is required of them. After work, they go back to their normal selves and they repeat this phase whenever tourists or visitors come to visit.

It is a common sight to see tourists walking and exploring Bali with their newly bought “I Love Bali” bags. These bags can be bought in many shops located in Bali. Many tourists come to Bali and buy these bags back to their home country as gifts or souviners. The logos can be found on keychains, shirts and towels besides on bags. These products are produced for the mass market. It is catered to the tourists and is similar to Disney. Disney has their logo on every product sold be it picture frames, water bottles or bags.

Like Disney, there are standard operating procedures in performing a Balinese massage. First of all, they calm visitors down with wet sented towels and lead them to the massage room. They are able to choose the various scented oils and are then requested to change before the massage is performed on the customer. This procedure is standard and every customer will experience this form of sequence and treatment unless the type of massage they are receiving is different. The staff or the masseuse would be able to know what to do because their tasks are considered repetitive. Disney has their standard operating procedures too.

There are also an increasing number of westernized restaurants in Bali. If tourists walk down the more modernised area like the kuta strip, they can find Spanish, Italian and French restaurants set up in Bali. The traditional warungs are not well furnished and can only be found at the more rural places in Bali. The westernized restaurants are themed as well. There is a mixture of the type of cuisines with additional Bali “feel” to the restaurant. Disney has their culture for themes too which is infuenced by the season. For example, during Christmas season, Disneyland will be well decorated with Christmas lightings and to create a more magical feel, “fake” snow or even better, real snow can also be seen.

Changes brought about by the growth of tourism

Due to the influx of tourists and that Bali is now seen as one of the top tourist destinations, the government is making plans to further cater to the tourists. The island would be divided into 21 tourist zones where each zone is developed to meet the needs of the area. The government is moving towards mass tourism instead of a niche market. It was stated in an article that “The Bali government is saying every area of the island has to have a resprt development. It’s crazy.”

Previously, Bali is known for slavery. It was stated “Before the colonial period, the Balinese were better known for frequent internecine wars and a thriving slave trade than for an enlightened culture.” Now, Bali is very focused on driving their economy with tourism due to its increasing popularity among tourists. This can be seen through the efforts of the government to conform Bali into an ideal tourist destination with the 21 tourist zones. “Although Westerners started visiting Bali as early as the 1930s, the tourism boom that drives much of the Balinese economy took off in the 1980s. Tourism is now the largest source of income for Bali and provides a livelihood for 70% of its population.” ( Should tourism in Bali be hampered or affected negatively, the city will suffer to a very large extent.

The Balinese massage is one of the highlights of coming to Bali. Tourists that come to this city would definitely have a go at their signature massage. With the influx of tourists, more and more massage parlours have sprung up because it is seen as a way to have more income. The demand for massages from the tourists increases and so do the number of massage parlours. Hence, it is very common to find massages that claim that they know how to perform the Balinese massage when they actually do not. This actually decreases the trust that the guests or massage lovers have and also reduces the credibility of authentic Bali massage parlours.

It was a common past time for the people in Bali to produce arts and crafts. As stated in an article, “With the growth of tourism, the arts and crafts industry has experienced high growth rates. What was once an enjoyable pass time has now become a business for many of the Balinese people.

Today, arts and crafts are created for three purposes: art for religion; art for tourists; and art for export and trade.” This resulted in the government building more art schools for students to learn the arts and crafts to support this industry. Bali, adapted to tourism demands.

Previously, Bali is known for slavery. However, as their tourism industry thrives, it is now also seen as an educational site for tourism students. Bali is considered a success in thriving in the tourism industry considering what they were reputed for. Tourism students can now learn about how they progressed to this stage, the Balinese spa and massages and their culture.

Other changes also include destruction of historical sites or structures to make way for tourism infrastructure like hotels and spas. It was stated that “Tourists overflow in quantum leaps to Bali, creating an explosion of infrastructure requirements that visibly erode the natural environment.”’s-tourism-—-a-national-tragedy.html

The beaches were dominated mostly by tourists and there is also an increase in pollution too. Tourists also started behaving and living like the local Balinese that it is difficult to differentiate if they are Balinese.

Due to the thriving tourism industry, sacred dances or rituals that the Balinese perform are now, conformed and performed for the tourists on a daily basis. The dances are now performed for the pleasure of the tourists and are used to attract them to come to Bali. The value and exclusitivity of the dances and rituals are lost due to the industry. However, it strengthens the community ties, increase social cohesion and it adds vitality to the art form.

Due to the tourism industry, the locals are becoming less interested in their own culture too. It was stated, “Even well-heeled Balinese folk would rather hang out at Kuta's Hard Rock Cafe than watch a classical Legong dance.” Because the exclusivity of the Legong dance is lost due to it being a common sight, the local Balinese are becoming less interested and would rather spend their time at a more modernized place like the Hard Rock CafĂ©.

Standardization is also one of the changes. The government would conform the city or country to “go along with the world”. Due to tourism, hotels, types of food and beverage, the different forms of technology like Wi-fi and entertainment would be used to compete with the other tourism destinations. This results in the host destination to lose their unique selling point.

Modernization is also one of the effects of the large number of tourist influx. When people come to a country or a city, they bring a part of their home country along with them. It can be their beliefs, practices, cultures or technology. These can influence the host destination especially when the number of tourist arrivals to Bali is so great. It results in the host city or country to lose its uniqueness like their diversed culture and change the reasons why they perform rituals or dances. Now, it is seen as these traditional acts are done because of monetary benefits.

Tourism a culprit in commodifying cultures and traditions?

I feel that with the help of globalization, tourism is a major culprit in commodifying cultures and traditions. Modernization also has a part to play too.

Globalization is when people are better connected throughout the world through the advancement of technology and it is also when goods and services that were initially localized would be easily available everywhere around the world. Globalization stimulates the tourism industry through spreading information about destinations. Tourists can share photos that they took with the indigenous tribes or videos that they took when they were experiencing the destinations culture and traditions. The information can reach a vast audience and is effective in promoting tourism for the country.

Because of tourism, when tourists go back to their home country, they bring traditional items or souviners back. A possible scenario would be that people start to get interested in these traditional or cultural items, the tourists would start coming to the destination to obtain these items and selling it back at their home country. This is when goods that were initially localised in the destination to be made available around the wourld. It results in the degradation of culture and traditions and also making them a commodity.

When people come to the tourist destinations, they tend to learn about the cultures and traditions of the place that they visit. To learn or experience some of the traditions, the Balinese that play host would provide the services in educating them. As time passes, the Balinese will see it as a possible form of income and they would be “selling” their culture and traditions. The Balinese might end up retaining their culture and carrying on their traditions just because of monetary benefits they receive from tourists.

In modern times like this, many things or situations would make us think that monetary benefits are the most important. With a growth of tourism, it is inevitable that the city or the country would be more modernized because government starts to conform the city or country to be an ideal tourist destination. Standard of living would also go up due to tourism and modernization. These factors would increase chances of the culture and traditions of the place to be commotized. This is because the locals that are affected by inflation and the increase in standards of living would need to find forms of income. Countries which are heavily reliant on tourism would then find their locals “selling” their culture and traditions to have more money.


Bali is a small island that is heavily dependent on the tourism industry. They should develop and promote the destination as an ideal tourism industry to bring in more revenue for the city. However, it should be done with discretion. Protecting their culture and traditions and prevent it from being eroded should be one of their top priorities. Due to modernization and globalization, Bali’s culture and traditions are what makes them different from the other destinations. In times like this, where standardization can be seen in the tourism industry, this is what sets Bali a part from the rest. The rich culture and traditions in Bali is one of the key unique points and due to tourism, it is highly possible that their cultures will be lost.

It was stated, “Little by little, the Balinese cultural elements are being diluted and carried off into the ocean of world culture by the wave of tourism” (Sujana 1988). The influence of tourism on culture and traditions of a place is so strong that leaving tourism to grow with little control could cause generations and generations of culture and traditions to be lost, forever.