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In this chapter:

  • Bali's history can be traced back to Neolithic times with the discovery of stone tools
  • Bali's greatest influence historically has been Java, its neighbouring island
  • Bali was once ruled by the Hindu Majapahit Empire
  • On 14 September, 1906 the Dutch gained control of Bali
  • The Japanese occupied Bali for three years during the Second World War (1942-1945)
  • In 1949 Indonesia was released from Dutch control and became independent

Bali's history

Bali's history is unique in comparison with the rest of Indonesia. Due to the lack of records, little is known about Bali's history before the ninth century. Certain discoveries, however, have provided clues to the origins of the island.

The discovery of stone tools (blades, axes, hoes and picks) in the north of Bali suggests that people have inhabited Bali since Neolithic times. Neolithic refers to a period in history relating to the late Stone Age. It is characterised by the development of agricultural tools and implements. It is thought Bali was settled in around 3000 - 2500 BC.

By the Bronze Age (300 BC) the population of Bali was rapidly increasing. There is evidence of coastal peoples who swam the strait or walked a bridge that linked Bali with East Java. This opened Bali up to many more Indonesian people and influences. By this era the Balinese people were already practising wet-rice cultivation, which is still used today. Fields were worked with stone tools and water buffalo. By this time the Balinese had also developed a sophisticated megalithic culture. Megalithic culture was known for shaping very large stones into architectural monuments; for example, tables and chairs. During this era many meetings of villagers took place around stone tables.

Bali has been influenced significantly by Java, its largest neighbouring island. Throughout history, Javanese people often fled to Bali.

See animation 

Trade influences

The Indian and Chinese influences on Indonesia began with the spice trade. The islands of Indonesia were attracting interest from other countries because of their spices; in particular cinnamon, cloves and sandalwood. Bali's lack of resources and inaccessibility (lack of ports) led historians to believe that the Balinese religion, beliefs and artistry were mostly influenced by the Javanese. The relationship between Java and Bali has been long and varied.

India, through trading with the islands of Indonesia, brought Hinduism to Bali.

The Hindu Majapahit Empire

Indonesia was once ruled by two powerful empires, the Sri Vijaya Empire and the Hindu Majapahit Empire. The Hindu Majapahit Empire ruled from East Java between 1293-1520 AD. See image 1

In 1343 AD the Hindu Majapahit Empire conquered the small island of Bali and brought about massive changes to its society. The most influential change was the introduction of the caste system, which is still part of the cultural psyche (way of thinking) (refer Topic 2, Chapter 3: Roles of people).

In 1515 the Java Hindu Majapahit Empire fell to Muslim invaders who had been slowly moving east from Sumatra. Many people were displaced in Java and most fled to Bali, Java's closest neighbour. Dedicated Hindu priests, craftsmen, nobles, artists and soldiers fled the small island so that they could continue their Javanese culture and practise their Hindu faith.

Rajahs (kings) reigned over small kingdoms across the Balinese island. Bali remained isolated for approximately 400 years until the arrival of the Dutch in the early 1600s.

The Dutch

The year 1597 saw the first Dutch expedition to Bali. The Dutch had been visiting other Indonesian islands for many years and trading mostly with Java. It was Dutch merchant Cornelius de Houtman who led this first expedition in the hope of finding a land abundant in spices and other things from which they could profit. Bali, however, was unlike its neighbours and offered little in the way of resources. The rulers of the island were feuding, which later led to a weakened government that was easy for the Dutch to conquer.

Dutch influence was strong throughout the archipelago during the 18th century when Indonesia was formally taken over by the Dutch. The country during this period was known as the Netherlands East Indies until 1949 when Indonesia gained its independence.

The 17th century saw the Dutch gain a renewed interest in the Balinese island. With the weakening government, the Dutch were able to overpower Bali. In 1800 the Dutch began their fight to take over the island. The Balinese fought against the Dutch but their force was too small compared to the Dutch.

The Balinese people's efforts against the Dutch climaxed on 14 September, 1906 when a large Dutch invasion landed on Bali. The small force of Balinese fought back, but were defeated. Almost 4000 Balinese died trying to save their island. The Dutch formally took over Bali after this feud.

The Dutch colonisation of Bali lasted until World War II when they were overthrown by the Japanese forces.

World War II

The Japanese occupied Bali for three years (1942-1945) during World War II. They used the island mainly as a holding ground and as a place to prepare for their next objectives. See image 2

The Dutch were ready to resume control of the island once the War was over but the Indonesians had different ideas.

On 17 August 1945, Indonesia's first president, Sukarno, declared Independence. It took a further four years before the Dutch accepted this loss of power. The battle of Marga in 1946 saw further bloodshed amongst the Balinese people when 94 Balinese soldiers refused to surrender to the Dutch attempts to reclaim Bali. By 1949 the Dutch finally surrendered to Indonesia and full power was handed over.

Recent history

Bali has suffered greatly at the hands of others during a variety of wars. The island has also suffered from other disasters. Plague, chronic food shortage and volcanic eruptions have all tormented Bali's recent history. The Balinese have, however, maintained a cultural identity and belief system that stems back to the Hindu Majapahit Empire.

Chapters: Bali's location Bali's geography Bali's history

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1. ____ culture was known for shaping large stones into architectural monuments.






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