Names, Titles and Castes
Bali you can describe a person in at least six ways:
Birth order names.
Status or caste names.
Public occupation titles.
Balinese have personal names. Traditionally the Balinese did not
attach much importance to them. Children are the ones most likely
to be called by their personal names, given to them on the first
anniversary of their birth. (See the article
entitled Balinese Ceremonies.) The name, which does not change
during a person's life, is often totally made-up name - not taken
from a stock of names. Also the name, once given, would not be
used by anyone else in the same village community (banjar).
does not seem to apply so much any more. Personal names do not
convey the amount of information the other more commonly used
order names enable a person's position in the family to be immediately
identified. It is automatically taken at birth; even a stillborn
child is so named.
born: Wayan, Gede or Putu.
2nd born: Made, Nengah or Kadek.
3rd born: Nyoman or Komang.
4th born: Ketut.
the names are repeated, so the fifth and ninth child is called
Wayan, etc. The system resembles the endless cycles of rebirth,
the repetitious days of the week and the music of the gamelan.
There is no difference in birth order names for males and females.
To find someone called Wayan in Bali is like trying to find Paddy
in Dublin. In Bali you meet many Wayans. Because of the obvious
potential confusion, another identifier is needed, like Wayan
Restoran or Made Tabanan (Tabanan being a large town in West Bali)
or Nyoman Duduk (Nyoman the Sitter).
Once a child is born, the parent's birth order name ceases to
be used. The teknonym appears. So, birth order names are reserved
in the Balinese mind for children. This reinforces the point that
having children is a desirable, adult thing to do. It is expected.
A man without children does not carry much weight in village affairs.
Western surnames are a relatively recent phenomenon. It was only
in the 16th century that Francis I of France and Henry VIII of
England required every person to take or be given a surname. This
was deemed necessary because of an increase in the population
and also because of increased mobility of the population.
Many famous people of the time are still known by their first
names: Rafael, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Dante. If confusion was
likely, a place name would be added: Rafael da Urbino, Leonardo
Kinship in Bali has two aspects:
Kinship within the family compound is quite a simple system -
it is called the "Hawaiian" or "Generational"
system. A person classifies his relatives according to their generation
- siblings, half-siblings and cousins; mothers, fathers, uncles
and aunts; children of brothers, sisters, cousins; grandparents;
The Balinese refer to the third generation above the person and
three generations below the person by the same name. So, great-grandparent
and great-grandchild are both called kumpi. They are therefore
To be the eldest and part of four generations is regarded as the
ideal, like living for three score years and ten.
A consequence of this identity of generations reveals itself in
prayers to the dead. The three generations below pray to the dead
person in the graveyard, but the fourth generation, the great-grandchildren,
the kumpi, do not. They are regarded as being part of the same
generation and not junior to the deceased. Prayers are only offered
to gods and seniors. So, also, the deceased's contemporaries do
not pray to him either.
The next generation, the great-great grandchild is regarded, as
senior to the deceased and so he also would not pray to him. So,
once again, a circular system emerges.
Public kinship is an unusual, perhaps unique, kinship system.
The basic unit is called a dadia, that is to say a unit composed
of all those individuals who have a common ancestor. A dadia is
a kin group. It can be of any size. Each dadia is a self-contained
entity, which, by definition, cannot break into segments. According
to tradition, in the case of the gentry, the triwangsa, an illustrious
Majapahit immigrant would be the common ancestor.
The dadias compete for power and a number of characteristic practices
operate to enhance that power.
One such practice is the search for the most preferred marriage
partner. Dadia groups are not exogamous. By preference they are
endogamous (that is, marriage within one's own circle of close
kin). The ideal partner is a patriparallel cousin, which, for
a male, would be his father's brother's daughter, that is, his
first cousin on his father's side. This ensures that the resources
of the bride stay within the dadia and enhance it. It therefore
prevents fragmentation of land and other property. A personal
benefit is that the bride does not have to leave her family. Her
children belong to the same descent group.
Marrying within the family
Marriage within the family in the Middle East, Africa and Asia
is not uncommon and has been so for centuries. In parts of Saudi
Arabia, 39 per cent. of marriages are between first cousins. Buddha
married his cousin. The Ancient Egyptians preferred to marry their
own flesh and blood. Rameses II, 3,500 years ago, had many wives.
Nefertari, his principal wife, died when he was 48 years old.
He then married his eldest daughter and she was promoted to principal
wife. Later he married another daughter. 10 of the 15 Ptolemy
rulers married their sisters. The censuses of Egypt about the
time of Christ reveal that perhaps one in six marriages in Greek
Macedonian families were between brother and sister.
In many parts of Europe, 1,500 years ago, men and women married
within their own extended families until the Christian church
banned marriages between cousins in the 4th century. It seems
that the aim of banning marriages between cousins was to make
their loyalty to Christ higher than loyalty to their own family.
The Roman Catholic Church still bans it, but gives dispensation
to couples considered worthy. There is not Biblical support for
it. The patriarch Jacob married two of his first cousins, Rachel
and Leah; Isaac and Rebekah were first cousins once removed.
Marriage between first cousins is still illegal in 24 American
states; five others allow it only if the couple are unable to
Charles Darwin married his cousin Emma and had 10 children, including
four brilliant scientists. Albert Einstein's second wife Elsa
was his first cousin. Queen Victoria married her cousin Albert.
Research published in the Journal of Genetic Counseling 2002 indicates,
however, that marriage between first and second cousins is not
as dangerous as many experts had previously believed. Unrelated
couples have a 3 per cent. to 4 per cent. risk of having a child
with a birth defect, significant mental retardation or serious
genetic disease. For close cousins the risk jumps only slightly
higher by 1.7 per cent. to 2.8 per cent. above the average 3 per
cent. to 4 per cent.
Kinship Dadias and Sinking Status
Clifford Geertz in Kinship in Bali explains the sinking status
pattern that applies within royal and noble dadias. It determines
The head of the dadia is the eldest son of the eldest son, stretching
back to the common ancestor, which, in the case of the gentry,
would be to a Majapahit founder of the family.
The other sons of the head of the family will found their own
families, which will be continued by the same primogenitural succession
rules. The status of these sub-dadias diminishes as time goes
by and as they become more distant from the current head of the
family, who is in the direct core-line.
So, each royal or noble house has its own authority, which is
ranked according to the sinking status pattern, but all houses
within the same dadia are related to one another and are an inseparable
whole. Dadias are power blocks.
Royal lineage can be viewed as a set of concentric circles. The
most powerful, the Puri Gede, is in the centre.
This is how the Balinese - or at least the Sudras - refer to each
other most of the time. As soon as a person's first child is born
(even if the child dies) they are called "Mother of X"
or "Father of X". This name continues until their first
grandchild is born, when they will be called "Grandmother
of Y" or "Grandfather of Y". If and when their
first grandchild is born, they will be called "Grandmother
of Z" or "Grandfather of Z". "X", "Y"
and "Z" do not change as more children of the same generation
come into existence.
This identifies the parents through their common children. It
stresses the importance of having children in Balinese society.
It advertises the couple's current role in society.
There is a sharp contrast with the Western position, where a wife
loses her name to her husband's. Further, the system defines a
person by reference to his descendants and not his ancestors.
In the West, people tend look to important ancestors.
Every person in Bali inherits a status title. It is a personal
attribute and is not dependent on any other group the person may
belong to or job that he may perform. It places that person in
a particular rung on the ladder and appropriate politeness is
Common titles are Ida Bagus, Gusti, Pasek, and Dauh. There are
numerous titles. It is not known exactly how many titles there
are or how many people belong to them. No census has ever been
A person's title reflects his paternal line. One's standing derives
from ancestral origin. That position determines social behaviour
throughout the whole gamut of daily life. A code of etiquette
determines the style of speech, posture, dress, eating, marriage,
burial ground, mode of cremation and even house construction.
The precise codes are described in the relevant chapters.
Title has a religious basis. All titles come from the gods. Some
titles are closer to the gods than others. The code of etiquette
respects the religious basis of title, not necessarily the person
himself. It does not say anything about the particular person's
moral worth, wealth or power.
In some villages, such as Ponggang, everyone in the village is
of the same Sudra caste. Indeed about 93 per cent. of Bali's whole
population is Sudra. Elsewhere, however, for instance, in Ubud
there are people of all four castes. In descending order they
caste system in Bali derives from the caste system in India and
was imposed on the title system. It gave the untidy title system
a simple shape. The first three castes are referred to as the
triwangsa, gentry, or aristocrats. The caste system is a classification
of a whole bunch of aristocratic titles rather than people. The
fine nuances of title are what matters to the Balinese. Adoption
of the Indian caste system linked the old Balinese title system
to Hinduism, which was desirable, especially from the gentry's
point of view.
The word "caste" comes from the Portuguese word "casta"
which itself comes from the Latin word "castus" meaning
Members of the gentry are referred to and called by their titles,
Ida Bagus, Gusti, etc., whereas members of the Sudra caste are
called by their teknonyms.
Indian caste system
The Rig-Veda, the oldest religious text in the world, 1,028 sacred
hymns in archaic Sanskrit, probably composed between 1500 and
900 BC, tell the story of how a primeval man, Prajapati, the Lord
of Beings, who existed even before the founding of the universe,
was sacrificed. How he came into being, why or to whom he was
sacrificed, is not clear. The gods themselves appear to be his
children. He was cut apart to make all things in the universe.
The Hymn of the Primeval Man tells us how the Brahmans came out
of his mouth, the Satria out of his arms, the Wesyas out of his
thighs and the Sudras out of his feet:
they divided the Man
Into how many parts did they divide him?
What was his mouth, what were his arms?
What were his thighs and his feet called?
The Brahman was his mouth,
Of his arms was made the warrior,
His thighs became the Vaisya,
Of his feet the Sudra was born.
The moon arose from his mind,
From his eye was born the sun,
From his mouth Indra and Agni,
From his breath the wind was born.
From his navel came the air,
From his head there came the sky,
From his feet the earth, the four quarters from his ear,
Thus they fashioned the worlds.
With Sacrifice the gods sacrificed to Sacrifice
These were the first of the sacred laws.
These mighty beings reached the sky,
Where are the eternal spirits, the gods.
(translated by A.L. Basham)
indicates a certain classification of people and the particular
parts of the body would appear to be significant. The caste system
in India was not closed at that time. There was mobility between
In India the caste system divided society into four major endogamous
groups or Varna: The class of person depended on his job. The
Brahmans were the priests; the Satrias the rulers, the Wesyas
the merchants and the Sudras were there to help the others. They
were the farmers, craftsmen and ordinary people.
At the bottom of the ladder were the Untouchables or the outcastes,
the people without caste. They were the pre-Aryan native Indian
tribes or those who had done something so awful that they could
not be admitted to society and had no status whatsoever.
There was no concept that anyone was better than anyone else.
They all had their jobs to do and they had the freedom to choose
their jobs. The first two, however, enjoyed certain privileges.
Over time it became more rigid and by 200 BC it had evolved into
a hereditary system, which was not dependent on the job chosen,
but on birth.
Balinese caste system
It seems likely that caste came to Bali with the Hindu-Javanese
invasions. It was not a wholesale adoption of the Indian caste
The three upper castes, the Brahmans, Satrias and Wesias are called
the triwangsa, which means "three peoples". Legend had
it that the three upper classes came from God and had divine superiority
- a story, of course, not disputed by the gentry themselves. The
rest, the 90 per cent. of the population, are called Sudras.
All castes in Bali are further stratified, for example, there
are five Brahman strata, all of equal importance. All Brahmans
are said to be descended from Nirartha, the Javanese priest who
came with the Majapahits and influenced Balinese Hinduism. For
more on Nirartha, see the
article entitled Balinese History - Pre-history to the Europeans.
Everyone knows his stratum.
The gentry are also referred to as wong jero, which means insiders
and the Sudras are referred to as wong jaba or outsiders, because
the Sudras lived outside the palace or puri. The others lived
in or near the puri.
There are no Untouchables in Bali and intermarriage is allowed
(unlike India). There always was a certain amount of mobility.
The king of Klungkung changed from being a Brahman to a Satria
when he became ruler. Brahmans are debarred from ruling in Bali
(unlike India). Deserving subjects could be raised by the ruler
and call themselves Gusti. The Dutch made the caste system rigid.
Mixed marriages, however, still result in a change of status.
The rules concerning mixed marriages are complex. A high caste
man may marry a lower caste wife, although if this continues for
three generations, the high caste may be lost. The children automatically
receive their father's status. His wife remains a Sudra, but enjoys
a higher position and changes her name and receives the title
Jero. A high caste wife, however, should not marry a lower caste
The Dutch forbade discrimination on account of caste. This was
adopted by the Republic of Indonesia, which holds that everyone
is equal. Nevertheless, caste still exists and is respected by
many people. It manifests itself by politeness and good manners,
which are important to the Balinese. So, a waiter or a bellboy,
who is a Brahman, would normally be spoken to in High Balinese
as a mark of respect for his caste.
When a Sudra meets a nobleman, he bows his head. Pavilions in
palaces and houses are tiered to allow people to sit in accordance
with their status. High castes sit high. A round about way to
ascertain a person's caste is to ask where they sit. At meals,
the highest-ranking person eats first. No one leaves until he
declares the meal over.
When Balinese meet they speak in Middle Balinese. As soon as it
becomes apparent that a person is a Brahman, he will be spoken
to in High Balinese, no matter what his job may be, and a lower
posture will be adopted.
In India caste is an outcome of one's own actions in previous
incarnations. In Bali, however, one's title indicates how far
one's family has sunk from its divine origin or to be more precise
how far one's paternal line has sunk.
There is another classification. People are divided into clans
or Warga, which is a separate category from caste. There are about
22 clans and they have each enjoyed a golden age in ancient Bali.
They all claim to be direct descendants of influential religious
or political figures, for example, the Bujangga Waisnawa clan
claim descent from Rsi Markandya. Some cut across caste boundaries.
The biggest and most important is the Pasek clan, to which about
60 per cent. of the population belongs. Within the Sudras, the
title groups of Pandes, Paseks, Bandesas and others, are attributed
higher status than ordinary commoners.
The Pasek clan has many responsibilities, the most important
of which is to maintain four very sacred and important temples
in Besakih, Gelgel, Padang Bai and Amlapura. The Paseks trace
their origins to a Brahman Sage called Empu Geni Jaya, who was
one of four Brahmans invited to come from Java to deal with
disputes caused by the Bali Aga, the native people of Bali.
His seven children, all Empu or Sages, are the founders of the
Another well-known and respected clan is the Pandes, a clan,
who started as smiths and specialised in forging metals and
krises. The kris originated in Indonesia. It is a long asymmetrical
dagger with distinctive blade patterns, achieved through alternating
laminations of iron and pamor (nickelous iron). It is in two
parts, the blade, the wilah, and the scabbard, the warangka.
Scabbards may be decorated with gold and jewels, but the real
value is in the blade. The blades and scabbards may be made
by different artists. Unlike the other arts, there is no Indian
The Pandes are a hereditary clan, as are the Paseks. The Pandes
consider themselves set apart from the caste system. They command
respect because of the importance of their job. In the old days,
even Brahmans spoke to those working as smiths in High Balinese.
They are also permitted to have 11 tiers on their cremation
towers, an honour only permitted to persons of very high caste.
They also have their own priests and consecrate their own holy
Blacksmiths in other cultures were miracle makers. In the eyes
of Homer metallurgy was probably the king of crafts. In The
Iliad, the stars were the handiwork of the god Hephaestus, who
worked with the anvil and bellows.
Although classified as a weapon, the kris
has a ceremonial function. The oldest krises come from the Buddha
age, between the 6th and 7th centuries. There are approximately
20 periods, named according to the kingdoms that commissioned
them, up to the present day. Each has their own distinctive markings.
At the end of the 15th century the Majapahit kingdom was responsible
for the spread of the kris to Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines
Even today a real kris is regarded as sacred and believed to possess
sakti and have magical power called tuah. They are heirlooms.
A man is not considered a real man unless he has a kris. A kris
can increase bravery, help avoid illnesses and protect the owner
from black magic and misfortune. They can be worth as much as
Early iron did not come from rocks, where it was abundant, but
from the sky. For a long time only meteorites provided iron. The
best pamor are made from nickelous iron from a meteorite, which
when blended into the blade, acquires a multi-coloured lustre.
A meteorite is a meteor that reaches Earth. It is usually smooth,
but may be pockmarked. It normally is black. Being a gift from
the gods, many people in the world regard meteorites as sacred.
Mecca houses a sacred, cube-shaped stone, the Kaaba, which fell
from the sky. Arabian tribes and Mohammed himself worshipped it.
Muslims still face it at prayer and circle it at the start of
the haj, a journey in the footsteps of Mohammed, which every able-bodied
adult Muslim, who can afford the trip to Saudi Arabia, must perform.
The rules on caste and kinship are reasonably rigid and by themselves
could result in tribalism. This is avoided by a system of clientship,
which cuts across caste and dadia boundaries. It is a contractual,
informal link between dadias and other groups.
Geertz has identified at least three such affiliations:
These are between:
powerful and less powerful dadias
first one between powerful dadias and less powerful ones manifested
itself traditionally in the less powerful sending military and
economic help to the more powerful in times of need. Also the
less powerful dadias were required to send women as wives to
the more powerful. The relationship was called wargi. The wives
were a form of tribute. The wargi relationships extended across
the triwangsa-Sudra divide and tied them together.
Satria and Wesia dadias and Brahman dadias
The ties between the Satria and Wesias and Brahmans were uneasy
but necessary. The Brahmans were superior in spiritual matters
and the Satrias and Wesias were superior in political matters.
They needed each other to maintain the rituals of the theatre
Another tie between Satrias and Brahman priests was that Brahmans
usually manned the lords' tribunals, as they were versed in
and capable of advising the lord on Indic law. The tribunals
seemed to deal with political issues, land disputes between
the gentry and ritual pollution matters. Punishments were caste
graded so that the higher castes were punished more severely.
Brahman priests would also advise generally on how life at the
court should be organized so that it reflected the supernatural
All Balinese have a particular priestly house to which they
go for advice on ritual matters and help in organizing ceremonies.
This applies to Sudras as well as the others castes
Powerful dadias and important minorities,
especially Chinese traders
third kind of relationship was purely economic. Significant
trade was and is carried out by non-Balinese minorities, primarily
Chinese, but also Moslems, such as the Bugis, Javanese, Malays
and Arabs. Each court town tends to have a Chinese or Javanese
ghetto, where traders and shopkeepers live and work. In 19th
century Bali the Balinese lords granted commercial patents to
the Chinese entrepreneurs in return for money and goods. These
Chinese themselves could have agents and sub-agents. The paramount
lord's Chinese agent was called a Subandar or trade master,
who would have a monopoly of some kind or another.
There are about 50 public occupation titles. This is similar to
the Western system, Doctor, Nurse, Professor, Father. Such people
are addressed and referred to by their official titles, Klian,
Perbekel, Pekaseh, Pemangku, Anak Agung, Cokorda, Dewa Agung,
Pedanda and so on.
It is a more forceful identification with occupation than in the
Western mind. These people, village chiefs, local priests, kings,
lords, high priests and so on do not merely do a job, they are
public men. Their individuality is secondary. This identification
cuts across caste, but the actual occupations are linked to it,
according to spiritual eligibility.
Ni is used for women and I for men. These are prefixed to personal
names and are only used in correspondence.
Gods and goddesses have titles too. All gods are referred to as
Dewa and goddesses as Dewi. The higher-ranking ones are called
Betara (females Betari). In some cases they are given a further
name, like Batara
Guru or Dewi
They do not have distinctive personalities, like the Greek or
Roman gods. They regulate certain matters, such as fertility,
power, knowledge, death and so on. Often the Balinese do not know
which gods are worshipped in which temple. There is always a pair
- male and female.
It should be mentioned that, despite the classifications between
various categories of Balinese, that there is a great mingling.
They are brought together in numerous ways. The Balinese population
as a whole is also brought together through inter-regional ceremonies,
which take place in the state temples, which are described in
the article entitled
Balinese Temples and Holy Men.
In the past the kingdoms were brought together through treaties.
These were written treaties between the major powers in Bali,
but they were ceremonial, rather than binding, legal documents.
Even the houses they live in have titles.
Brahmans live in compounds called geria. Royal or noble houses
are called either puri or jero according to their rank. The core-line
house is usually called the puri gede or the great puri. Newer
puris are called puri so and so, for example, Puri Saren, which
is in Ubud. More distant houses are called jero so and so.
Puri meaning palace and pura meaning temple derive from the same
Sanskrit word for fortified town.
Particular titles belong to the three high castes and their titles
are almost never omitted, even in casual conversations:
lda Bagus for men, lda Ayu or Dayu for women.
Satria: Cokorda, Anak Agung, Dewa Agung, Dewa Gede, I Dewa,
titles indicate important nuances in status within a particular
Historically humans derive from a god and the descent continues.
Each stage down the scale is marked by a change of title. The
god's title is Batara. Then there are semi-divine figures, whose
title is Mpu. The first Javanese king of Bali, Kresna Kepakisan,
was a Brahman but lowered himself to a Satria to rule. He was
a Dangiang, but changed to a Dalem.
All Gelgel kings were called Dalem and they all ascended to the
world of the gods on death without leaving a corpse - moksa. The
seventh one left a body. Civil war had broken out and Gelgel was
finished. He was the last king to be called Dalem. His successor,
the founder of Klungkung was called Dewa Agung, a lower title,
and all his successors were known by this title.
The other kings were descendants of Javanese Satrias, who had
left the court of Gelgel and therefore bore lower titles.
The family soon forgets individual identities. The Balinese system
of changing names has this effect. When a baby is born the parents
are called father or mother of X and when a grandchild is born
the name changes again to grandfather or grandmother of Y. Eventually
only a few contemporaries remember the person's original name.
Anthropologists call this naming custom teknonymy, the practice
of being named through one's descendants. It immediately indicates
one's position in the family and defines their social identity.
Change of name
If a person has a run of bad luck, a remedy is to change his name
by consulting an expert, who will check the calendars and possible
reincarnations precisely. Sometimes the new name is kept secret.
There is a similar belief in Java. President Sukarno is an example.
He was named Kusno Susro, which names were dropped in childhood,
because he was a sickly child and his father renamed him Karna
to bring him back to better health.