History of Bali - From Paleolithic to Present

Everyone has a past, a daunting history that shapes up the entire personality of a person. The behavior and the thinking pattern of a person is all a result of his/ her past experiences of life. The same is true in the case of countries as well. Be it geography, culture and traditions, the religions followed and even the cuisine, everything is influenced by the chain of historical events experienced by the country.

One such countries is Bali. Right from the beginning of the “Stone age” till the present digital age, Bali has witnessed its birth from under the sea, the influx of people from countries like China, India, Taiwan followed by the atrocities of the Dutch and the business processes carried out by Japanese. Bali even fought battles and emerged out as a Winner making itself independent from the rules of Dutch and Japanese and setting up their own empires. All the tragedies and struggles faced by Bali made it a strong and triumphing country which we see today. These events shaped the entire culture and tradition, the administration and the strong political face of the Bali.

The Birth Of The Bali

So the story began some millions of years ago on the far East face of the Globe when there happened a huge quake that gave birth to the “Islands of Gods”. It started as the “Tectonic Subduction” of the Indo – Australian plates under the Eurasian plates beneath the Earth’s surface. This resulted in the emergence of the huge limestone deposits and coral reefs with other marine deposits from under the sea. All these imbalances created a strong volcanic eruption that melted down into the waters of Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean giving birth to this serene land so called “Bali”.

These fierce eruptions on the west coast of the island are more than 1 million years old, the central part being 1 million year old and the eastern coast being younger that witnesses volcanic eruptions even today. The fertile volcanic deposits, the ashes and the rich oceanic mineralized layers of soil are responsible for the exotic floral and fauna diversity of the evergreen Bali. this is the reason that has made Bali and agricultural province. Also the treasured source of variety of marine species found here has honored Bali for being an important part of the “Coral Triangle”. This is how the agriculturally prominent, rich in marine biodiversity and the nature’s wonder came into existence.

The Flourishing Civilization

Dated back to around 2.5 millions years ago in the Stone Age, the first colony of residents was established by the Homo erectus specimen, the oldest known human species. Today the descendants of this population can be found in Bali as well as the neighbouring country of Java. Meanwhile the Archeologists found out the artifacts of stone tools such as stone hand axes and mud utensils made by this community which proves their extended existence in the initial stage of Paleolithic times. The dead remains of bones and human fossils as studied by the Paleontologists also indicates the existence of life on Bali in the late stone age as well as in early Bronze age. Records explains the bronze age humans as the Homo sapiens species known to have flown from different countries to this fertile land of Bali. These “Cave-dwellers” used tools like arrow points and fish bone tools and are known to bring with them the rice cultivation practices. The Bronze age people famous for the “Dong-Son” technique of using metal for various purposes was influenced by the Vietnamese civilization.

the stone works of Bali

No records have been found of human life prevailing before this scene. In this way, the first human colony of the migrators was established on Bali. Since then, the trend of migrators from all over the world was set who started exploring Bali, some with a motto of robbing this calm beauty while some with an aim to mingle with the already residing peace loving population.   

Among these mingling migrators were the people from India, China and Java islands in early years of 1st century. They brought with them their own culture, tradition and religious beliefs and set up the stone of Hinduism as well as Javanese culture. The first written inscription record and the art of writing on clay pellets was a gift by the Indian civilization that flourished here. The currency of China known as “Kepeng” was also brought and used in Bali.

Similarly, the knowledge of organized town planning, agricultural practices, use of boat and different crafts came along with these intellectual population to Bali. Cekik, an archeological site in the western region of Bali showcases the remains of this era proving as the “must-to-visit” place for history lovers.     

Somewhere in 914 AD, Bali is also known to have its first King named Sri Kesarivarma who is talked of naming the Island as “Bali” which means sacrifice and is also known for the Buddhism inspired government and political system in Bali. he belonged to the Sailendra dynasty. Buddhism and Hinduism collaterally flourished in Bali during this reign.  

Later Bali witnessed invasions of foreign kings and marriages of Bali kings with princesses from outside the land territories. This led the lands fall under the rules of various kingdoms like Warmadewa dynasty, Reigns of Singarasi king and finally the world famous Majapahit kingdom.  

In 13th century, roughly around 1343, the Majapahit empire established their rule in Bali that enjoyed a good period of ruling for about 500 years. Their dynasty came to an end when the Javanese King won the battle and acquired Bali. this was followed by a huge influx of Java people that led the foundation of the present day Bali. These were the people who gifted Bali with great art skills that prospered the art of painting, wooden works of carving, sculpting, dance and music, literature and architecture.   

Somewhere in the 15th century during this battles being fought and when Indonesia was under the influence of the Islamic reign, a revolution took place under the leadership of Dang Hyang Nirartha, to protect Hinduism in Bali. This movement not only laid the strong foundation of Hinduism in Bali but also came up with the present day worshipping idol of Lord Shiva.

The Dark But Triumphing History

Every rich kingdom with a beauty is bound to be invaded by the cruel greedy invaders and so do Bali. Something which started off as a traveller’s expedition to discover the Eastern lands and coasts, followed by profitable  business processes carried out by the Europeans ended up as a bloody battles costing lives of millions and bitter relationships. Bali has been prone to many intruders and attackers from around the world including the Dutch and the Japanese.

Right from Marco Polo to Antonio Abreu, Francisco Serrao, Francisco Rodrigues and Sir Francis Drake, everybody visited and explored the Bali island and discovered the fruitful opportunity to set up the business here.

After 2 more expeditions at the cost of few Portuguese lives drowned into the sea while voyaging from Holland to Bali, the then King of Bali, Dalem, allowed the Hollanders to freely carry on the businesses on the land of Bali. this was the most  imprudent and unwise decision on the part of Balinese.

The trading involved the exchange of slaves from Bali in return of Opium supplied by the French and Dutch to Bali king. Along with this, rice and animals were also exported from Bali.

During this time, Bali was also experiencing internal fights and conflicts among the kings of various regions of Bali which finally led to the division of this beautiful island into 9 small kingdoms, dividing the power of Bali as one nation. These extended battles among the divided nations created an opportunity for the Dutch invaders to get hold over the Northern provinces of Bali.

History also speaks of the trading relations and various agreements and treaties being signed between Bali and countries like France and Dutch for defense support to these countries.

With the establishment of the Dutch East India Company in 1602, there began the rise of the Dutch rule which lasted for almost 4 centuries. However the strong control over the political and economical aspects of the state began in the middle of the 18th century which led to an influential ray in the segment of politics and administration of present Bali. Battles were fought between Dutch and the Bali Kings which resulted in the massacre of thousands of lives. This led to a stronghold of the Dutch over the Bali provinces and they set up their own government to rule. This was the time when the foundation of the present Bali’s Political and Administration system was laid.

On the positive side, Dutch totally renovated the face of Bali by introducing many beneficial opportunities. This included the introduction of fine commercial activities and the tax system, roads and bridges construction, vaccination, eradication of slave and self sacrifice system prevailing in Bali and the cash crop cultivation of coffee.

But the greedy Dutch invaders were keen to expand their control over Bali and took advantage of the disturbances prevailing between the rulers in South of Bali. the Dutch defeated the Lombok king and gained the South of Bali under their control.

A strong Hindu kingdom which was established by the Majapahit Empire and the immigration of the Java people did not allowed the Mughal Islamic invaders to stand long on Bali. However Bali was not strong enough to bear the atrocities by Dutch. The Portuguese explorers and the Dutch business people who made a sore eye over this Godly island and entered the territory with bad intentions created a havoc in this peaceful place.

Dutch in Bali

The worst was still left to be witnessed in 1942 when Japan got over this little natural entity during the World War II in surge of vengeance and war with Netherlands. With the declaration by the Japanese to freed the Asian countries from the hold and rule of Western invaders, they occupied Bali and indeed freed it from the rules of Dutch. This led to Japan as the new Ruler of the Bali Kingdom with more intense and cruel rule.

However in 1945, Dutch returned to regain their power and reign when Japan surrendered in the War. But this time Bali was all set to give a hard blow to the Dutch using the Japanese weapons.

battle between Dutch and Bali

In 1946, the battle of Marga, under the leadership of Colonel I Gudti Ngurah Rai was fought where the Balinese made a suicidal attack on the Dutch army but still couldn’t make it to win against the heavy armed forces of Dutch. Hence Bali was made a part of the State of East Indonesia as one of the 13 administrative districts by the Dutch.

At last in 1949, when Indonesia won its independence from the Dutch rule, Bali also freed itself and took a breadth of relief. This resulted in the formation of the Republic of the United States of Indonesia with Anak Agung Bagus Suteja as the first Governor of free Bali.

Today, Bali is a province with 8 different regencies and 1 capital city, Denpasar.

The Cultural Shape Up

Bali being a home to migrators from various places like India, China, Taiwan, etc. its culture has been influenced by the same. The art and craft, the religious tradition and the culture everything has been a snippet of all the previous cultures that prevailed here. The language spoken here that is the Balinese is also a combined derivative of languages of neighboring islands like Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

The religion here is influenced by Hinduism with 9 different sects each worshipping their own personal deity. Though efforts to force Islam and Christianity were made, Bali today also stands strong on its foundation pillars of Buddhism and Hinduism.

More than 2000 years old culture and tradition are still reflected today in the lives of Balinese people. The Java residents also flourished here in 15th century that proved to be a milestone in the field of art, music and spiritual spread. These were the people who gifted the world its magnificent art of wood carved flowers, baskets and the world class Balinese painting.  

Balinese wooden work

Bali also witnessed the invading by Islamic rulers but did not paid any heed. This led to a lesser influence of the Islamic culture and tradition on Bali.    

Bali’s Gift To The World

The complex irrigation system of “Subak” for rice cultivation originated here which was brought upon or developed by the people migrated from India and China. The Java residents who established their colony in Bali gifted the most beautiful artistic handworks of the wooden carvings, wooden baskets, paintings that are highly appreciated by the tourists around the globe.

Bali’s fight with Nature

Emerging as a Champion after facing many atrocities and challenges, Bali was still left to face the challenge from Nature. In 1963, when volcanic eruptions of Mount Agung disturbed the lives of Balinese people it also impacted other settled aspects of Bali. The political disturbances and the slow down of the ecom=nomic growth of Bali resulted in relocation of many Balinese to Indonesian states. However, born to be a winner, Bali with its tourism industry and hospitality, once again jumped back to regain its lost value in the world.

Bali In 21st Century Era

At a distance of 3.2 kilometers from the islands of Java towards East at 8 degree south of the Equator lies the ‘Island of Gods’. With an area of 5632 square kilometer, Bali is a group of islands also housing smaller islands like Menjangan Island, Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan, Serangan Island and Nusa Ceningan.

Mount Agung, also known as the Mother Mountain stands as a crown to this royal paradise right in the center of Bali. Denpasar flaunts as the capital of Bali situated in the Southern part of this island. From its Northern Black to Southern White beaches patrolled by the uneven yet gargantuan volcanic rock mountains and islets peeking from under the blue waters you will be put in amaze.

Throughout this journey, Bali has preserved its worldly beauty of colorful coral reefs, giant volcanic mountains, black and white sandy beaches, rich flora and fauna of marine bio - diversity and of course the Balinese culture for its people and guests. This diamond cut piece of land is sure to fill your heart with love and love, so you just make sure that you do not forget to see the glorious enigma and the writhed journey of Bali’s past life while you admire its present beauty.

This post was published by Monali Dholakia

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