Bali and tourism: between tradition and modernity

Situated between Java and Lombok, Bali is one of the 17 000 islands, representing only 0,29% of the largest archipelago in the world: the Republic of Indonesia. Bali’s population keeps increasing due to the constant migration from other islands such as Java and Lombok, reaching more than 3 000 000 inhabitants. Throughout the year temperature varies from 20 to 33 degrees Celsius, rainy season lasting from October to March, and from June starts the dry season until September, quite hot and perfect period for tourists and surfers in particular.

Monument in Kuta for memory of those who died in terrorist attack

Promoting and developing the tourist industry is one of the five goals set in 1986 by the Indonesian government. Bali is successfully fulfilling its mission despite the terrible impact caused by the terrorist attacks in 2002 and 2005 killing hundreds of tourists. Bali, island of Gods, keeps being the most visited island of that immense archipelago. In 2010 alone Bali was visited by more than 2,5 million foreign tourists. Kuta, where the bombing took place, is the best example of the fast growing tourism in the island. Walking around the city, it is difficult to imagine that three, four decades ago, Kuta was just a village of 9000 souls, modestly living from farming and fishing. Now it seems to be hijacked by tourists, mostly Australians, French, English and Americans enjoying the shiny sun hitting the uncovered legs and chests and drinking cheap beers until indecency, “but mostly Australians” the locals would say.

However this does not seem to bother Balinese people. What imports the most is their religion: “as long as Hinduism is still strong in Bali, tourism is not a problem” said Indra, a very talented young musician, son of our host, rector of Institute of Art of Indonesia (ISI). Indeed, the traditions and culture seem to be untouchable: the Gods keep being celebrated with glory and happiness. In each village traditional dances and songs are often performed in the temple accompanied with the famous gamelan instrument. Men and women proudly wear their sarongs and offerings are meticulously prepared with love and devotion for the Gods. On Galungan days, streets and villages are beautifully decorated with long bamboo poles and garlands. It looks like Christmas with its real spirit of holiness and togetherness. On these sacred days, it is often that one gets stuck in traffic because of ongoing ceremonial walks. At that very moment, tourists would then realize that Balinese Hinduism and culture is the soul of Bali!

in Bog Bog shop with its owner Jango Pramartha

However some people and artists, such as Jango Pramartha, director of monthly cartoon magazine Bog Bog, try to alarm the government and the Balinese of the negative impacts of the development of tourism’s industry. We first met Jango in his Bog Bog shop where he sells all kind of comic items such as t-shirts, bags, hats, cups etc. On the walls are exposed some of his best art works and magazine’s covers. Jango was talking of his drawings with worries for his beloved Bali but still with humor. In his hilarious and satiric cartoons he covers all kind of issues related to Bali and tourism: globalization or glo-Bali-sm, as he calls it, environmental issues such as water deterioration, pollution, the commodification of Balinese culture and arts, the loss of land for tourism development, the rapid extinction of Balinese architecture and other social and political issues. Bog Bog means “lying or deceitful” in common Balinese language. It was born out of the deception felt by its founder in 2001, when he realized that the “reformasi” era was just a big lie from politicians.

We continued our conversation with Jango at his house and studio situated two minutes from his shop, just on the opposite street. Though located in the center of the capital, the traditional architecture of his house reflects his strong desire to keep Balinese culture alive. Before saying good bye he concluded with these wise words as to encourage us to reflect: “modernity does not necessarily mean forward and tradition does not necessarily mean backward, so it is important to enter in the era of modernity but it is crucial to keep the tradition”.

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One response to “Bali and tourism: between tradition and modernity

  1. …and thats not an easy thing to do as we know it from other Asiatic countries like India,where the religion and traditions are very strong and deeply connected to every day life.Just remember that we are all Hindus;-)Thats what you get told at least and it makes sense in one way or another;-)Well,just wanted to say that the article is well written and that it is a balance act (that actually nobody can control or is not controlled at all) to combine modernity and traditions,we have plenty of examples where it did not work,I am just mention mallorca;-(! …

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