Balinese History – the 20th century

Balinese History – the 20th century


In 1908, the year that the last Balinese kingdoms fell, the Dutch opened a tourist bureau in Batavia to promote the Dutch East Indies as a tourist destination. It extended its scope to Bali in 1914.

The first tourist to visit Bali was a Dutch Member of Parliament, Herr H. Van Kol. He is considered a tourist because he was not on official business. He was in Bali to enjoy himself. He had just been to Sumatra and Java and arrived in Bali on 4 July 1902. He visited Klungkung and Karangasem. When he returned to Holland he wrote Uit Onze Kolonien, which was published in Leiden in 1902. It has 826 pages, of which 123 are devoted to Bali.

With the introduction of a regular weekly KPM steamship from Java to Bali in 1924, tourism took off – the first tourists were from the colonial administration. The schedule was that the passengers disembarked on a Friday morning, made a round trip of the island by car and left on Sunday. They slept on the ship or in rest houses. In 1928 the first hotel, the Bali Hotel, was opened in Denpasar. It is still there, still Government owned, now a three star hotel, built on the site of the puputan in 1906.

Over in Europe, the Europeans had gone through the First World War and were keen to forget the rigours they had to endure. Those who could afford it started to travel. In those days travel was a leisurely pursuit; for instance, it took six weeks to go from America to Bali by ship.

Books, articles and postcards whetted their appetites. Exotic photographs began to be published – the first was by a German doctor, who was posted to Bali, Gregor Krause, whose book, Bali 1912, was published in 1920. This book probably inspired Vicki Baum, the novelist, to go to Ubud, meet up with Walter Spies and write A Tale from Bali.

Tourist numbers

In the 1920s a few hundred tourists visited Bali every year and in the 1930s a few thousand. Miguel Covarrubias, who visited in the Thirties, was worried about the possible effect of tourism on Balinese culture. He hadn’t seen anything! By 1940 the number was about 250 a month. The Bali Hotel cost about US$ 7.50 a night at that time. In 1958 there were about 4,500 tourists.

The Second World War, the struggle for Independence and the difficulties in the early and middle 1960s put tourism on hold. In 1964 there were 35,915; in 1965 29,367 (a drop of 18.23 per cent.) and in 1966 19,911 (another drop of 32.79 per cent.) In 1968, the figure was 10,997. Things changed following the settling in of the New Order regime of President Suharto in 1966. It was pro-West and coincided with a better world economy.

In 1993 there were 155,597 foreign visitors to Bali, which soared to 1.14 million in 1996. By the late 1990s millions poured in every year. In 1999 281,221 Japanese, 216,711 Australian, 118,131 Taiwanese, 108,328 British, and 75,605 Americans arrived directly into Bali. The busiest months are July and August. The total for the year was 2.4 million.

By 1999 Bali was home to 1,234 hotels with 34,317 rooms and 642 restaurants with a seating capacity for 51,660. At the end of 2001 Bali had 36,000 hotel rooms. There is now a glut of hotels. Real prices in the hotels fell 60 per cent. over the decade.

In 2000 the country received 5.06 million visitors, slightly less than its target of 5.1 million. The attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York on 11 September 2001 had a dramatic effect on tourism. Tourist arrivals in Bali fell 25, 33 and 15 per cent. in October, November and December 2001 respectively, compared to the same months in 2000. Altogether, in Bali, there was a 3 per cent. decline on the 2000 figures, which meant that 1.3 million people visited the island. Arrivals from the United States and Europe showed the greatest decline, but even the Japanese tourists, who normally account for 27 per cent. of the market, stayed away.

As regards spending, the Japanese spend most, followed by the British and then the Australians. In 2001 Bali commanded about 8 per cent. of the world tourist market, valued globally at US$ 100 billion a year.

After the Bali bomb on 12 October 2002, the Iraq War, the outbreak of SARS and bird flu, tourist numbers dropped significantly. Arrivals fell to the lowest level in eight years to 4,457,021 in 2003 and foreign exchange earned was only US$4,037 billion, the lowest in the previous 10 years.

Walter Spies

Bali’s most influential visitor was the Russian-born Walter Spies, son of a German diplomat. Born in 1895, he boarded a ship for Java at the age of 28 and lived in the Sultan’s palace in Jogjakarta for a year, where he directed a European orchestra. He, too, had seen Gregor Krause’s book, Bali 1912 and visited Bali in 1925.

In 1927 he was invited by the Ubud royal family to take up residence in Ubud. His contacts, writings, research and encouragement of artistic talent have had the greatest enduring influence on Bali.

First of all he stayed in the royal palace but then built his own thatched bamboo house and studio in Campuan on land that he rented from the royal family. You can still see his home, which is now in the grounds of the Campuan Hotel. You can even stay there. He brought his piano with him, a German bicycle and a butterfly net. He used to catch butterflies, put them in gold leaf boxes and send them to museums in Europe.

Spies’ visitors

He was interested in every aspect of Balinese life and culture. The rich and famous, as well as musicologists, anthropologists and novelists, all beat a trail to his door: Charlie Chaplin, Noël Coward, the ethno-musicologist, Colin McPhee and his anthropologist wife, Jane Belo, and the novelist, Vicki Baum, to name but a few. Margaret Mead and her third husband, Gregory Bateson, spent their honeymoon there, as well as carrying out a lot of pioneering anthropological research and writing several books and numerous articles. Their research lasted from 1936 to 1938 with a brief stay in 1939, during which time they wrote a lot and collected more than 1,200 paintings.

Noël Coward left a tongue-in-cheek poem in the Bali Hotel guest book, part of which went:

“As I said this morning to Charlie
There is far too much music in Bali,
And although as a place it’s enchanting,
There is also a thought too much dancing.

It appears that each Balinese native
From the womb to the tomb is creative,
And although the results are quite clever,
There is too much artistic endeavour!”

The most flamboyant of Spies’ visitors was the Woolworth’s heiress and film star, Barbara Hutton, who fell madly in love with him. She dragged him off to Cambodia to look at Angkor Wat. She paid him money for some paintings and with it he built her a bungalow and pool next to his, but by the time he’d finished she’d moved to Persia. The swimming pool is now a lotus pond.

Spies explained a lot to Miguel Covarrubias, the Mexican painter and ethnologist, who wrote the influential Island of Bali, published in 1937 and which is still widely read today.

Spies painted. He sold for high prices – one sold for enough to keep him in Bali for a year. One of his paintings and many reproductions hang in the Agung Rai Museum of Art in Ubud. He also took photographs – his photographs appear in a book he co-wrote with American dance critic, Beryl de Zoete, Dance and Drama in Bali. He advised on a number of films and choreographed the Kecak dance with Katharane Mershon, the American dancer-ethnologist, for a German film. Katharane Mershon lived in Sanur and wrote a book on Balinese life ceremonies.

Colonial Exposition, 1931

Spies promoted Bali’s image abroad in the Colonial Exposition in Paris in 1931. It was a great success. The prince of Ubud was the leader of the first dance troop ever to go to Paris. Many members of the Ubud royal family went.

Pita Maha

With Dutch painter, Rudolf Bonnet, who had arrived in 1929, Spies encouraged local painters to paint everyday life, try perspective and use modern paints and materials. Bonnet also started off by living in the palace in Ubud and together they set up an artists’ association, called Pita Maha, in 1931. Lempad and Cokorda Gede Agung Sukawati and his brother from the Ubud royal family were on the committee.

The membership, comprising painters, sculptors and silver workers, was about 125 people. Later it included weavers. The committee would judge the paintings. Some were kept for exhibitions in Java and abroad. The first exhibition was in Jogjakarta in Java. Spies, who was the curator of the Bali Museum in Denpasar, also bought their paintings for onward sale to tourists. For more details see the article entitled Balinese Painting.

The final exhibition was on 3 December 1941, just 36 days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.

Hans and Rolf Neuhaus

Spies also sold to the souvenir shops that were just starting to appear. Two German businessmen, Hans and Rolf Neuhaus, managed a well-known shop in Sanur, which opened in 1935. The local artists of Sanur used to congregate there and were often inspired by the brothers’ aquarium into painting scenes involving fish.

Spies is arrested

The Second World War, however, was looming. The Dutch were becoming alarmed by Germany and were looking for scapegoats. Spies was arrested on New Year’s Eve, 1938, charged with having sex with a young boy, convicted and imprisoned. The Balinese were puzzled and shocked by the arrest and brought his favourite gamelan to play outside his prison window. The boy’s father told the trial judge, “He’s our best friend, and it was an honour for my son to be in his company. If both are in agreement, why fuss?” Margaret Mead and other influential people spoke in his defence. She said, “It’s difficult to tell the age of these Balinese boys.” He was released on 1 September 1939.

When Hitler invaded Holland in May 1940 all German nationals were rounded up. Spies, who by that time had taken up a passionate study of insects and marine life, was the last German left in Bali. He was deported by ship bound for Ceylon in 1942. The day after it set sail, the Japanese bombed the ship. It was off Sumatra. The Dutch crew abandoned the sinking ship and the prisoners, including Spies, all drowned.

The Balinese Kings

The Dutch concluded that their decision to strip away the powers of the Balinese kings had been a mistake. There were strong stirrings of nationalism and communism in the 1930s. It was decided that a return to Balinese royalty would win the favour of the Balinese and they would then look kindly on the Dutch, although it was to a form of royalty that never actually existed in pre-colonial times.

In 1938, on the Balinese holy day of Galungan, eight Balinese aristocrats were consecrated as rulers, Zelfbesturders, at the Mother Temple of Besakih. Above each of them was a Dutch civil servant called a Controleur, whose task was to guide them on how to move Bali into the modern age.

The royal families learnt Dutch and were encouraged to go school in Java or Holland. Their job was to facilitate the colonial administration. At the same time they were to defend customary adat law and be patrons of the arts, in other words to maintain Bali as a living museum. It was the official end of direct Dutch rule in Bali.

Before long the Japanese arrived.

The Japanese occupation, 1942 – 1945

Japanese troops cycled down Malaya, conquered Singapore, crossed over to nearby Sumatra, moved east and landed at Sanur on the coast of Bali on 18 February 1942. The few soldiers of the Dutch colonial army that were there soon capitulated. Most had fled to Java already. Two days before on 16 February the Imperial Japanese air force had bombed the airport. The Japanese were landing on other islands too.

The Dutch surrendered on 9 March 1942. The Battle of Java Sea at the end of February 1942 ensured the Dutch capitulation. In a little more than three months Japan was in military control of French Indochina, the British possessions in Malaya, Singapore and Borneo, almost all of Indonesia and was occupying Portuguese East Timor. Thailand was independent but had to agree to Japanese troops travelling through their territory. Only Burma and the Philippines remained unbeaten at that time. The Japanese still claim that they were only liberating Asia from colonialism.

The Japanese continued the Dutch method of indirect rule through the pre-existing power structures and promised the Indonesians independence and thereby gained some acceptability. Bali did not remain long under Japanese Army occupation unlike Java and Madura. In May 1942 the Japanese Navy took over. The behaviour of the Navy was a lot better than the Japanese Army, which was brutal.

They introduced two important reforms. First, they created schools where all ethnic groups could attend. In Bali thousands of Sudra children received an education, which had been denied under the Dutch. They abolished school fees. Every morning the Indonesian national anthem was sung. The idea of a united Indonesia was born. Second, young soldiers were trained, an unprecedented experience. There were marches, military drills and saluting the Japanese flag. The training subsequently helped the Balinese in their fight for independence from the Dutch. The Japanese language was also promoted, but so was Malay as the national language,

Resistance to the resumption of Dutch rule was strongest in Bali, Java and certain parts of the Celebes and that may not be coincidental with Japanese influence.

National Revolution, 1945 – 49

British and Australian troops accepted the Japanese surrender on 14 August 1945. Three days later the Indonesians proclaimed independence in Jakarta on 17 August 1945. Sukarno was to be President and Hatta Vice-President, but the Dutch did not recognize the Republic. Under the terms of the surrender the Japanese were required to maintain peace and order in the territories they occupied. Republican bodies were to exercise civilian authority. At that time Bali was straining under grinding poverty.

By October 1945 the Republic had been recognized by China, the Soviet Union and the United States. But the Dutch wanted their empire back and they were able to call upon the British to help them. British forces invaded Surabaya, the capital of East Java, by sea, land and air in November 1945. Although the British held no colonial authority over Indonesia, stemming from the Yalta conference on 11 February 1945 and the Potsdam Declaration of 26 July 1945, a treaty bound them to the Dutch.

The objectives of the treaty were “to re-establish civilian rule, and return the colony to Dutch administration” and “to maintain the status quo which existed before the Japanese invasion”. The British forces were brutal. The British Government has since apologised. It was expressed by Richard Gozney, the British Ambassador to Indonesia, during a seminar on the Battle of Surabaya in Jakarta in October 2000.

The United Nations discussed the Indonesian issue for the first time in January 1946.

Dutch troops land

Over 2,000 Dutch Indies troops landed on Sanur beach on 2 March 1946. The Dutch forces were frequently undisciplined in the early months and burned villages and gunned down innocent people. They strafed villages with B-25 and Piper Club aircraft. Stiff military resistance by Balinese Republican forces lasted until late May 1948, followed by political struggle.

The conflict between the Indonesians and the Dutch caused lives. It was not as clear-cut as Indonesians versus Dutch. Many Indonesians actually favoured Dutch rule. Roughly 2,000 Balinese had died in the conflict by late 1949: about 1,300 on the Republican side and 700 on the Dutch side. Only a handful of Dutch soldiers died.

About a third of the Balinese fought on the Dutch side. The eastern kingdoms of Karangasem, Bangli, Gianyar and Klungkung, where the ruling palaces remained powerful and had been maintained by the Dutch, formed the backbone of anti-republicanism, but they had lost a lot of their influence (with the possible exception of Klungkung), merely because they had been propped up by the Dutch. Republican support came from the weak ruling families of Buleleng, Badung, Tabanan and for a time Jembrana.

The Republicans were themselves split into factions. So, Bali was divided and the divisions remained following independence.

The most significant battle was when 96 nationalists led by Lieutenant Colonel I Gusti Ngurah Rai, were surrounded and totally wiped out in one day on 20 November 1946 by the Dutch near the village of Marga in the hills of Tabanan. It is often glorified as another puputan and called the Puputan Margarana. Ngurah Rai is the only Balinese to be designated officially as a hero of the Indonesian Revolution. The airport is called after him.

The United Nations expressed disapproval of the Dutch desire to re-conquer Indonesia and the United States pressured the Netherlands to grant independence. At the Round Table Conference in The Hague, which lasted from 23 August to 2 November 1949, the form and conditions for the transfer of sovereignty to the Government of the Republic of Indonesia were negotiated.


On 27 December 1949 the Netherlands recognized Indonesia as an independent state and agreed to transfer sovereignty. On the fifth anniversary of the proclamation of Independence, 17 August 1950, the country was proclaimed the Republic of Indonesia.

The Indonesian constitution is founded on the Pancasila principles. The five principles are: faith in God and the practices of humanity, nationalism, representative government and social justice and they are symbolized by a star, a chain, a buffalo head, a banyan tree and twined sprays of rice and cotton.

President Sukarno became the first President of Indonesia. His father was a Javanese teacher, who taught in North Bali in the 1880s, and his mother was a Balinese Brahman lady. He was born on 6 June 1901. Mohammad Hatta from Sumatra became prime minister. The regime is known as the Old Order.

Sukarno, 1950 – 1967

Sukarno had a radiant personality and was a brilliant orator. A handsome, charismatic leader, he was an engineer and art lover. He spoke Dutch, English, French, German, Japanese, Javanese, Balinese, and Sundanese. He learned Arabic in order to study the Koran. He protested against Dutch rule and spent 13 years in jail or exiled from Java. When the Japanese invaded, he welcomed them and became a special adviser. After the war, he resumed the fight against the Dutch. He married six times. His last wife, Dewi, who is Japanese, he married when she was 19 and he was 57.

He took an intense personal interest in Bali and toured the island at least twice in 1950 and spoke to large crowds. He built a palace in Tampaksiring and visited several times a year bringing many distinguished guests, including Nehru, Ho Chi Minh, Tito and Khrushchev. It was on a visit in 1955 that Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India, famously described Bali as “the morning of the world”.

This period in Bali is marked as one of chronic violence and volatility. Bali had no strong local state apparatus. For many years Bali had depended on the Dutch and then the Japanese and they had gone. There was tremendous poverty, hunger and spiralling inflation. There were economic crimes. Conflicts along class lines were occurring. Political parties of the left were becoming popular.

Bali officially became a province on 14 August 1958. Prior to that there was one province Sunda Kecil comprising Bali, West Nusa Tenggara and East Nusa Tenggara. In 1960 the capital was moved from Singaraja to Denpasar.

In the early 1960s there were rat and mouse plagues, insect infestations and crop failures. It was not an easy time. The island’s economy declined dramatically, so much so that by 1964 central government’s contributions constituted nearly 90 per cent. of Bali’s total revenues. Central government was not having an easy time either. The economy was out of control. In 1965 inflation had reached 500 per cent. and the price of rice had risen 900 per cent. The budget deficit had risen to 300 per cent. of government revenues.

The economic problems coincided with aggressive national land reform legislation backed by the left leaning PKI party and the left leaning President Sukarno and his appointee, Bali’s Governor Suteja.

The new law, which in Bali was implemented on 1 January 1961, was that each household should have a maximum of five hectares of wet rice land and six hectares of dry land in the most densely populated regions. The state would redistribute holdings in excess of these limits. Priority should be given to those actually cultivating the plot in question. Absentee landlords were outlawed. The average size of landholdings in Bali was small – 89 per cent.

Balinese History – the 20th century