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In this chapter:

  • The discovery of stone tools on Bali suggests the island has been inhabited since the Stone Age
  • Many Balinese originated from Java and other neighbouring islands
  • Indonesia's official languages are English and Bahasa Indonesia
  • Balinese dress is divided into two categories; daily wear and traditional clothing
  • Balinese people have incorporated uniforms into their dress to signify belonging to particular groups


The origins of Bali's people are as diverse as its landscape. Historically, it is uncertain when the very first people arrived on this island, although there are many legends. The discovery of stone tools on the island has suggested that people have inhabited the island since the Stone Age (refer Topic 1, Chapter 3: Bali's history).

Many historians believe that people arrived in Bali in three waves. It is thought that the first people migrated from Java and Kalimantan in prehistoric times. These island neighbours were mostly proto-Malay people (ancestors of the Borneo people).

The second wave of people to Bali came from Java. They came gradually during the Hindu period, which was a time in Bali that ended the prehistoric period. The influx of people from India was influential to the island of Bali.

The third wave of people, who also came from Java, occurred during the 15th and 16th centuries. This was the time when the Hindu Majapahit Empire fell. There were many displaced people who wanted to continue their way of life but because Muslims had such a strong influence over Java they had to leave, so they migrated to Bali.

The major origins of Balinese people have been from the island's surrounding neighbours. Bali has historically been seen as a safe haven away from major fighting and bloodshed on other islands.

Naming of people

The naming process on the island of Bali is very easy. A child born in Bali will receive a predetermined name which is dependent on their birth order. These names include:

  • the first-born: Wayan, Gede or Putu
  • the second-born: Made, Nengah or Kadek
  • the third-born: Nyoman or Koman
  • the fourth-born: Ketut

The fifth child born to a family will restart the naming sequence, therefore they will also be called Wayan, Gede or Putu. All names are used for both boys and girls.

Some naming processes can become complicated when other names are added. These are also names that were used during Bali's time as a caste society, when names were used to distinguish people's social standing. In those days, names were used to automatically determine a person's order of birth as well as their caste position.

It is also common for people's names to change during their lives, especially when a new child arrives into a family. This addition may be reflected in a name becoming `mother of' or `grandfather of'.

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The cultural diversity of Indonesia has led to many different languages being spoken. Balinese was the common language on the island but today Indonesia's official language, Bahasa Indonesia, is more widely used in Bali.

English is now widely spoken on this small island. As tourism has become such a large industry, the need to communicate has increased. Children are today taught to speak English in school. From the age of twelve their English lessons begin.

The language of Bahasa Indonesia evolved from a Malay dialect which was used on the island of Sumatra. This relatively simple and commonly used language has become accepted amongst the Balinese as it is not associated with any of the leading ethnic groups of the country.

The acceptance of one language has allowed Indonesia to come together as one country. The use of the language is not restricted to schools but is also used by the media, therefore opening up communications throughout the archipelago.


Traditional clothing in Bali reveals a great deal about the wearer, the most obvious is a person's wealth and social status. Due to the tropical climate, clothing in Bali is lightweight. Everyday clothing for women consists of a cotton blouse and a sarong (a large piece of colourful material wrapped around the body like a skirt). For men, dress is similar in that they wear a shirt and a sarong or, instead of a sarong, they will wear trousers. It also common to see women wearing a long strip of cloth draped over one shoulder.

Ceremonies are the time for traditional Balinese dress and for women there are four main items that form traditional dress: the kamen (a kind of sarong); the kebaya (a blouse); a sabuk and a selendang (which are two kinds of sashes). The sarong is wrapped around the woman's waist. It is very long and wide and is secured with one of the sashes, the sabuk, which is repeatedly wound around the top of the body. It is like the woman is being bandaged. The blouse is placed over the top and is worn loosely. The second sash is more decorative and is worn tightly around the waist. There are many customs that determine how clothing should be worn in traditional Bali.

Men also wear a kamen (sarong), which is wrapped differently. Men wrap the cloth around their waist and then have a fold in the front. They will often wear a shirt with a sash tied around the waist. The knot of the sash is at the front. Men also wear an udeng, which is a type of head dress. It is very symbolic and comes in many different styles.

There is a strong textiles industry in Bali which is represented in the clothing that they wear. The Balinese have become well known all over the world for their beautifully intricate and colourful dress.

Uniforms have also become common. They are used today to indicate a person's membership of a different group, for example, within a banjar there are many different groups (a gamelan orchestra, a work group, a political group). School children right across Indonesia wear a school uniform. All primary school children wear the same type of uniform, which is red and white like the Indonesian flag. Most uniforms are colour coded to represent different groups of people.

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Chapters: What makes Bali unique? Origins Roles of people

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1. Which empire fell and triggered the third wave of immigrants to Bali?

The Javanese Empire

The Muslim Empire

The Hindu Majapahit Empire

The Sriwijaya Empire


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