Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
The average Balinese earns US$100 a month in income, and restaurant,
hotel and shop workers often make only half as much. Something to remem-
ber when you think about leaving a tip.
Bali is densely populated, with over 3.1 million people, almost all of the
Balinese Hindu religion. Other residents come from Java, Sumatra and Nusa
Tenggara; the Balinese tourist industry is a magnet for people seeking jobs
and business opportunities.
The Balinese people are predominantly of the Malay race, descendants of
the groups that travelled southeast from China around 3000 BC. Before that,
ethnic strands have been traced to the Australian Aborigine, India, Polynesia
and Melanesia, and a diverse range of physical features from those groups
can be seen in Bali's population.
In Lombok, the majority of people live in and around the principal centres
of Mataram, Praya and Selong. Almost 90% of the people are Sasak, with
minority populations of Balinese, Chinese, Buginese, Javanese and Arabs.
The Sasak are assumed to have come from northwestern India or Myanmar
(Burma), and the clothing the women wear today - long black sarongs
called lambung and short-sleeved blouses with V-necks - is very similar to
that worn in those areas. The sarong is held by a 4m scarf called a sabuk,
trimmed with brightly coloured stripes. Women wear very little jewellery
and never any gold ornaments. Most Sasak people are Muslims, and many
traditional beliefs are interwoven with Muslim ideology.
The Balinese of Lombok have retained their Balinese Hindu customs and
traditions. They contributed to the emergence of Lombok's Wektu Telu
religion (p316), and Balinese temples, ceremonies and processions are a
colourful part of western Lombok's cultural life.
Ethnic minorities in Bali include the Bali Aga of the central highlands,
whose Hindu traditions predate the arrival of the Majapahit court in the 15th
Caste in Bali determines roles in religious rituals and the language to be used in social situations.
This caste system derives from Hindu traditions on Java around 1350, and the structure, which
suited Dutch interests, was entrenched during the colonial period.
Most Balinese belong to the common Sudra caste. The rest belong to the triwangsa (three
people) caste which is divided into: Brahmana, high priests with titles of Ida Bagus (male) and
Ida Ayu (female); Ksatriyasa, merchants with titles of Cokoda (males) and Anak Ayung (females);
and Wesia, the nobility with titles of Gusti Ngura or Dewa Gede (male), and Gusti Ayu or Dewa
Ayu (female). Despite the titles, the importance of one's caste is diminishing, as status now comes
more from education, economic success and community influence.
Caste differences in language is overcome by the use of 'polite' forms of Balinese, or the use
of the national Indonesian language (Bahasa Indonesia), itself a sign of status (for information
on languages, see p373). In a traditional village, however, caste is still a central part of life, and
absolutely essential to all religious practices.
Although exact numbers
are hard to come by, it's
generally agreed that Bali
has Indonesia's highest
literacy rate.
century. There are Chinese in the larger towns, Indian and Arab merchants in
Denpasar and thousands of permanent Western expatriate residents (p122).
The island is a model of religious tolerance, with two Christian villages,
some Chinese temples, a Buddhist monastery and Muslim communities,
particularly around the ports of Gilimanuk, Singaraja, Benoa and Padangbai.
Though Bali Hinduism largely defines the culture, in most cases, permanent
residents professing other religions still refer to themselves as Balinese.
Ethnic minorities in Lombok include Chinese, brought over to serve as
coolies in the rice paddies beginning in the 18th century. Many went on to set
up their own businesses, which were singled out in the riots of 2000. The Arabs
in Lombok are by and large devout Muslims, well educated and relatively af-
fluent. In the late 19th century, Buginese from south Sulawesi settled in coastal
areas and their descendants still operate much of the fishing industry.
Following the end of Soeharto's authoritarian rule, the press enjoyed a
degree of freedom. However, it was short-lived. The courts have allowed
defamation suits to be filed by government officials and businesspeople
against editors and reporters using the Criminal Code instead of the Press
Law. A consequence of this has been an increase in self-censorship.
Meanwhile, the influential Jakarta Post promotes a more humane civil
society while serving the needs of its readers, both expatriate and Indonesian.
In Bali visitors are likely to see scores of tourist-oriented publications which
avoid serious controversy. The best source of local news in English is the
Bali Discovery website (, which has a news section
that draws from many local sources.
You may also see copies of the Indonesian edition of Playboy on news-
stands. It's published in Denpasar, and despite having centrefolds featuring
models wearing considerably more than the average tourist on Kuta Beach,
it was chased out of Jakarta by Islamic protesters.
See p346 for details on broadcasting and other publications in Bali and
Be aware and respectful of local sensibilities, and dress and act appropriately, especially in the rural
villages and religious sites. When in doubt let the words 'modest' and 'humble' guide you.
The Sweat of Pearls: Short
Stories About Women
of Bali , by Putu Oka
Sukanta, is a small
collection of engaging
stories about village life.
Try to find a copy in one
of the many used-book
An increasing number of younger Balinese now adopt the dress of visitors, which means
you'll see shorts everywhere. Overly revealing clothing is still frowned upon though - few
want to see your butt crack.
Many women go topless on Bali's tourist beaches, but bring a top for less touristy beaches
(definitely if you're going to Lombok).
Thongs (flip-flops) are acceptable in temples if you're otherwise well dressed, but if you are
going to a government office, say to get a local driving licence, you need to look smarter.
Take off your shoes before entering a mosque or someone's house.
Don't touch anyone on the head, as it is regarded as the abode of the soul and is therefore
Pass things with your right hand. To show more respect, pass something using both hands.
Beware of talking with your hands on your hips as it is a sign of contempt, anger or
aggression (as displayed in traditional dance and opera).
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