An Inner Perspective View of Bali
When I first went to Bali there were very few tourists. There were a few backpackers lazing the day away here and there on the golden sands of Kuta, and the odd tourist venturing around fearful of what they might bump into. Oh, how things have changed. Now, the tourist strip is a bustling, ‘cosmopolitan’ mecca for tourist from around the world.
But, from what perspective do the Balinese see this massive change on their island. Over the decades?. Imanuddin Razak wrote an excellent article in the JP about Anak Agung Gede Agung and his outlook on the happenings around him:
Change in Bali: A view from within
In everyone’s life, there is always a turning point that makes one take a giant leap toward change.
This also applies to Anak Agung Gde Agung from Bali, a social affairs minister under the presidency of Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid and the current king of Gianyar in Bali.
His ancestors had their roots in the Central Java ancient Majapahit Kingdom.
The death of his father — Ide Anak Agung Gde Agung, who served a multitude of top posts during the founding Sukarno presidency — in April 1999, a few months before he was named a Cabinet minister under Gus Dur, led him to believe that he must take a leading role in the preservation, if not the rehabilitation, of Bali’s environment.
This also extended to sociocultural as well as socio-religious life, which, he felt, had been eroded badly due to the strong influence of globalization.
Such motivation took him to Leiden University in the Netherlands in search of more complete information and background on Balinese culture, even though he already held BA and MBA degrees from Harvard University in the United States and a Phd from Fletcher University, also in the U.S.
“I did not know much about Balinese culture at the time … I tried to get such data on Bali at our national archives here, only to be given a very thin stack of information that I needed to start my project,” he said in a recent interview.
That persuaded him to fly to the Netherlands to pursue a degree in anthropology. He was lucky to get 10 anthropology professors who were willing to co-sponsor his PhD thesis at the 431-year-old university, including Prof. Richard Leaky, who is considered the father of anthropology.
Three years of research into Balinese culture and tradition were not wasted for the holder of a number of leading positions at a number of joint venture companies here as he received two awards — Excellent and Pioneering (equivalent of summa cum laude) — for his thesis: Bali Paradise Lost? Tri Hita Karana and the conservation of the island’s Biocultural Diversity.
It was due to this thesis that he was given the rarely bestowed opportunity to write his signature on a plaque at Leiden.
“There are only eight signatures on the plaque, with noted physicist Albert Einstein, top British politician Winston Churchill and South Africa’s most beloved president Nelson Mandela, among others. I, an Indonesian, am the eighth signatory,” he said.
Speaking about why he was asked to be a signatory, Anak Agung said that it was because he introduced a totally innovative approach to his research and thesis writing.
Unlike previous practice, which had always used a qualitative approach in anthropology theses, he adopted a quantitative approach — namely multi-variant regression — through nonlinear canonical analysis, which is more responsive to feedback from respondents.
With this he was able to draw one out of 1,000 traditional Balinese concepts, known as Tri Hita Karana, as the answer to the continuing erosion of Bali’s habitat and Balinese sociocultural and socio-religious life.
In economic terms, there has been a grand shift of Balinese from an agrarian to a commercial and consumptive society.
“It’s worsened by the (local) government’s misdirection policy to let deforestation and land clearance continue for the sake of the construction of infrastructure for tourism,” Anak Agung said.
“Statistical data has shown that all of the 38 beaches in Bali had eroded by an average of 125 square meters per year, while a total of 25,000 hectares of forest had been converted into hotels, malls or other tourism spots in the past decade,” he explained.
He cited the exploitation of the grand and sacred Ayung River, the site of many hotels, whose construction had gone deep into the valley bottom, thus destroying its habitat.
“No one dares to challenge or protest the construction there as the projects belong to entrepreneurs with good links to the ruling elite … Perhaps it is due to the existence of the caste system in Hinduism that people from lower castes would not dare to openly challenge those from castes above,” he said.
“To me, enough is enough. There shouldn’t be deforestation and land clearance in Bali anymore. There has to be a breathing spell for Bali and its people to restore Balinese culture and tradition,” he added.
With regard to the behavior of the Balinese, he said he was surprised at their acts of violence when outgoing president Megawati Soekarnoputri, who sought reelection, lost the 2004 general election.
“It was for the first time in my life that I saw Balinese engage in acts of violence … They burned trees and even the local legislative building,” he said.
He cited a 2001 statistic that reported a 2,000 percent to 3,000 percent increase in violence by Balinese two to three years before 2000.
As an operational mechanism for the Tri Hita Karana concept, especially in the wake of a series of recent bomb attacks in Bali that had ruined the island’s image as a safe tourism site, he therefore recommended a “Bali Recovery” campaign, which is contrary to the measures being taken by the Bali administration and the state ministry of culture and tourism.
Bali Recovery, he said, should not be misunderstood as merely bringing back foreign tourists by establishing as many tourism sites as possible, thereby neglecting the environment as well as the socio-religious and sociocultural aspects of the Balinese.
“The measures should focus on restoring our (Balinese) lost tradition and religiosity, as incoming tourists are only the byproducts of our conscience to return to Balinese traditional and religious values,” he said.
“Foreign tourists will come to Bali not to see jazz or rock musical performances nor car races at an international circuit nor to play golf at world-class golf courses as they can enjoy those things at other countries in the West.”
“It is true that some tourists will come for those things, but most come here to see the uniqueness of Balinese culture and tradition,” he said.
At the end of the interview, he called on the central government and local Bali administration to review their policies on Bali and revitalize local traditional and religious values so as to promote the resort island.
“We should increase people’s — including tourists’ — awareness on the uniqueness of Bali. Otherwise, Bali will only be seen as a place of everything for everybody.”