Bali History: What Shaped Today’s Culture & How Has it Changed?

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Bali is a beach-lover’s paradise, and it’s no secret that this island is on most people’s bucket list.

Hop on a scooter for a daytime adventure and then relax watching the sunset whilst chilling on a tropical beach. Explore landscapes and wake up on a tropical paradise every day to then fill your time with peace and love. It’s an amazing place to visit for so many reasons. But, Bali history isn’t all so pretty and serene. Let’s take a look at how the history and past culture affect what we perceive today.

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A Bit About Bali History

Bali is located in the westernmost end of the Lesser Sunda Islands between Java to the west and Lombok to the east. This Indonesian island has natural attractions, ideal climate and relaxed atmosphere. Friendly people, flowers, temples and calmness overrule the island, making it popular amongst travelers worldwide. Let's explore it's interesting history to discover how this place came to be.

Bali History: Early On

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There’s not sufficient evidence which records as far back as the Stone Age. However, it’s suggested that the first settlers to emigrate to this island were from China in 1500 B.C. This culture introduced the agriculture of rice, which Balinese people still use in the present day. Bali history remained a complicated and vague subject for centuries, although Hindu artifacts lead back to the first century. However, Buddhism was the first religion linked to the island, which was discovered as far back as A.D. 500.  

The earliest people in Bali believed in spirits, and Buddhism and Hinduism arrived via Java. The oldest writing found in Bali are stone inscriptions which date back to the 9th century. During this time, people from Bali were heavily influenced by the Hindu and Buddhist religions.

In the beginning of the A.D. centuries, Bali experienced deep ties with the Hindu-Buddhist culture. However, the Chinese culture influenced the island from time to time too, through visual arts, theatre, and architecture. Java, a nearby island, played an important role in the Balinese culture and it often overran its tiny neighbour, as Bali didn’t have a king until the 10th century.

When the Dutch arrived, they ignored Bali because it wasn’t important to their tradable goods. But, in 1855, the first Dutch officials paid attention to the island. Over the next few decades, they seized control over the island and pushed the Balinese kingdom to the south. The Dutch pressurized the Balinese rules, and in 1906, invaded Bali after they refused to pay compensation for ransacking a Chinese ship. Rather than submitting to the colonial rule, the Balinese royals chose to die.

The Bali Volcano Eruption

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On March 16th, 1963, 1,110 people died and 100,000 people were made homeless following a volcanic eruption. Entire villages clouded with layers of ash and hot mud which made its way to the sea. Roads were out of use and hard rains created landslides and lahars. People suffered from a lack of food, and villages were literally swept away. Many died when a cloud of volcanic debris raced down a mountain and suffocated villages with clouds of hot gas. Cinder and ash blew over and drinking water was in short supply because rivers and streams became grey.

Located beneath the volcano is Besakih, a sacred shine. Thousands of people visited the temple, despite another risk of a new eruption. Women picked up burning coals in their hand, and people offered bowls of rice, bananas and spiny durians to the gods. Following the volcanic eruption, many Balinese people moved to other areas in Indonesia. This saw much less people living in Bali, and there were soon anti-Communist purges following this flee.


How Has Bali Changed?

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Bali history is fascinating and many travelers say that it’s better than ever. As it’s so popular, you’d imagine that everyone’s seen everything worth seeing in Bali. However, if you’re prepared to venture beyond Seminyak and Kuta, there are a handful of hidden gems to explore there. For example, the island’s hot springs, or its Mystery Boulder Beach. Thanks to an improved transportation system, travelers can now customize their adventure around Bali to their own.

The food culture in Bali has progressed significantly, because it’s not just predictable and simple choices offered now. The island is now home to a variety of world-leading restaurants. There are so many hotspots to discover and with a wider variety of cultural flavours, you can pick up pretty much any cuisine you fancy. For example, there are now family-friendly restaurants and beach clubs with luxury dining options to cater for all.

Visiting Bali is now easier than ever. With extra flight options popping up and an array of competitions on Bali routes, there are numerous airlines offering to take you there. This is because tourism has excelled in recent years, and Bali has become a popular destination for globetrotters. New international and domestic terminals opened in 2012 which welcome in more airlines from around the world. Getting into Bali is much easier and cheaper these days, as its scrapped its $50 entry fee. And now, Australians can stay for up to 30 days without a visa.

How Has its History Influenced Other Aspects of Bali’s Culture?

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Bali is more than a tropical-setting with mesmerizing sunsets. It was an important trading destination for other islands in Southeast Asia. The Balinese social was heavily influenced by the East Java culture. By 1343, a colony arose, and the island became mainly Hindu. Locals who disliked this change, fled to higher grounds, such as Batur Lake. Consequently, a Balinese culture developed, which is still present to this day.

From 1515, the Empire of East Java was overthrown. Spiritual followers and many Hindu priests moved here. As such, many researchers see this reason as why Bali remained Hindu, and Islam culture dominated Indonesia. Towards 1602, the Dutch were the first to settle in Bali. Two hundred years later, the Dutch completed political control over Bali. However, they continued allowing local tribes and villages to control their ancient practices without any interference.

Currently, Bali’s culture focuses heavily on rich tradition and spirituality. Most Balinese people spend their leisure time working on artwork or hobbies which have passed down through generations. Decorated with intricate carvings, extraordinary decorations and detailed paintings, public areas are cultural too. Bali villages hold temple festivals and celebratory ceremonies often throughout each year. Religion is an important aspect of Bali culture with many rituals and traditions. Religion, along with art, are a part of daily life.


Have You Visited Bali?

Bali history is fascinating, and it’s always amazing to uncover how a region has become what it is today. When you think of Bali, you envision the tropical delights, snorkeling opportunities and amazing surfing. However, in order to get to this point, there’s so much happened prior to this significant change.

Have you ever visited Bali, or do you know some interesting Bali history facts? If so, share your thoughts and experience in the comments.

Related Article: Top Eight Things to Do in Bali for A Memorable Vacation

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