The Island Of Bali, Indonesia



In the larger towns and in the districts where the princes held sway, landownership became more individualistic, but elsewhere the right of landed property is not recognized as absolute and an undesirable member of the community cannot hold property given to him or to his ancestors against the will of the village council. A landowner cannot sell his property within the jurisdiction of the village without authorization from the council and it can be confiscated if he misuses it or if he abuses his privileges.

Instead of the familiar exploitation, enslavement, and economic inequality imposed on the population by a ruling class of aristocrats or bureaucrats so often found in countries where the government is centralized in individuals, in Bali we find an economically independent majority that is truly democratic because every representative villager, regardless of his caste or his wealth, is an active member of the village council with an equal voice in village affairs and with equal duties to perform.

The government of the villages remained impersonal and with a minimum evidence of even its existence, because power was equally divided among the members of the various councils, and the executive officials, such as kliangs, council heads, treasurers, and so forth, officiated as a duty to the community and without reward. If to the inherent spirit of co-operation and high ethical standards of the Balinese we add their model institutions, we may find the explanation in the fact that the Balinese never actually became wage-earners, and even now coolie labour for hire remains unimportant. Despite their poverty the Balinese are freer and live better than do most natives under colonial rule.

However, the contact of Balinese culture, first with the feudal princes and lately with our civilization in the form of trade, unsuitable education, tourists, and now missionaries, has made a deep dent in the simple and logical life of the Balinese. The changes are taking place so rapidly that they were strikingly evident even after a two years' absence, the time elapsed between our first and second visits to the island. Fine roads and new necessities are encouraging the consumption of foreign commodities such as imported cloth, motor-cars, and gasoline, and the islanders will learn to desire more and more the " advantages of civilization," thus creating a gigantic exodus of the island's wealth.

The Balinese have lived well tinder a self-sufficient cooperative system, the foundation of which is reciprocal assistance, with money used only as a secondary commodity. Being extremely limited in means to obtain the cash - scarcer every day - necessary to pay taxes and satisfy new needs, it is to he feared that the gradual breaking down of their institutions, together with the drain on their national wealth, will make coolies. thieves, beggars, and prostitutes of the proud and honourable Balinese of this generation, and will, in the long run, bring a social and economic catastrophe.

Unfortunate as this is, the power of our civilization to penetrate can no longer be ignored. It would be futile to recommend measures to prevent the relentless march of Westernization; tourists cannot be kept out, the needs of trade will not be restricted for sentimental reasons, and missionary societies are often powerful. To advocate the unconditional preservation of their picturesque culture in the midst of modern civilization would be the equivalent of turning Bali into a living museum, putting the entire island into a glass case for the enjoyment of hordes of tourists.

It is a matter of deep regret to see a million intelligent people, living a simple and logical life ruled by an almost unprecedentedly harmonious co-operativism and with a truly great national culture, be turned into an experimental field for missionaries and a stamping-ground for traders.

In adapting foreign ideas to their own culture the Balinese have shown unusual logic and an intelligent power of assimilation. It is to be hoped that those in control of the island's future will see that progress comes to the Balinese naturally and gradually and that they shall be permitted to decide for themselves what they want to absorb without losing their essential qualities and becoming another vanishing race of coolies.

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Seminyak Bali Private Villa