‘Real Bali’ as Western construct: Rethinking tourism’s ‘ruination’ of Bali

As an American university tyro on a opening year study mercantile transformations in Balinese communities, I, too, have turn good proficient with this question. Most recently, we listened to mixed discussions on a subject during a new Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (UWRF). Especially in a arise of a Indonesian government’s devise to rise “10 New Balis,” it is transparent that a sustainability of a Balinese tourism attention in all a forms contingency be addressed. But what struck me as blank from these discussions was a reflexive, vicious demeanour into a unequivocally thought of a “ruined” Bali.


At a many simple level, “ruined” implies that there was something pure, that an authentic and primitive Bali once existed and that it is now threatened. But a “real Bali” that many people refer to, illusory as an fast bliss with an immutable, abounding culture, was not combined by a Balinese. Rather, it was a Dutch colonial construction creatively grown to clear a bloody takeover of a island.

In response to their general annoyance over a puputan (mass suicide) that preceded a colonial rule, a Dutch motionless that Bali had a rich, devout enlightenment in need of preservation. Maintaining Balinese culture, then, would be a consequence of Dutch colonial policy, nonetheless during times this incorporated the Dutch colonists’ interpretation of Balinese enlightenment and clashed with what a Balinese people indeed wanted. Many cultural aspects of Bali that we now take for postulated as signature institutions, like terraced rice fields and a standing system, are, in part, a product of this Dutch policy.

The Western artists who flocked to a island following a appearance of Dutch order promoted the Netherlands’ Balinese narrative. Brush cadence by brush stroke, these artists not customarily assembled Bali as a “living museum”, yet also combined their possess paradisiacal impressions of Bali, formed on Edenic and Orientalist themes that were unfamiliar to a Balinese, to emanate a picture still widely supposed today.

Their design were displayed opposite a world, bringing to a island generations of tourists seeking to experience the artists’ renditions of Bali. But no matter how many communication painters like Walter Spies and Willem Dooijewaard had with a Balinese people, their illustrations were not Balinese representations of Bali; they could customarily be deputy of a practice of a Western elite. As a result, a picture of “Bali as paradise” was an inauthentic construction. 

All this colonial story coalesces into a unaccompanied point: that a “real” Bali people bring as “ruined” was never Balinese. While a pivotal principle of tourism is formulating an picture and identity, a Balinese were not in control of a foundational temperament on that a island’s tourism attention was built. Failure to commend this simply legitimizes tourism as a colonial erect that has effaced honestly Balinese experiences. 

Not customarily is a simple grounds of a “ruined” Bali misguided, yet so too are a reasons many ordinarily touted. At a UWRF, one judge of a row contention on tourism’s effects on Bali asked a panelists how a commodification of enlightenment in Bali was stripping it of value. He was referring to supposed changes done to a definition of enlightenment and sacrament when tourists paid to attend in such events.

The issue with this doubt is that it imposes Western ideas of sacrament on Balinese Hinduism. The famed anthropologist Clifford Geertz described Balinese sacrament as an orthopraxy, that places pinnacle significance on scold control and rituals. This is in approach contrariety to an orthodoxy, that emphasizes confluence to scold beliefs and improved describes Western religions like Christianity and Judaism.

Spiritual definition in Balinese Hinduism, then, derives from following determined rituals and practices, not from their sacredness. Hence, positing that profitable audiences profane Balinese sacrament is a misunderstanding founded in the deception of the Western conception of sacredness. 

Another reason commonly given to support a evidence for a “ruined Bali” is a environmental impact of mass growth on a island, that is good documented. However, observant that tourism has busted a Balinese sourroundings implies that tourism is a hegemonic establishment that is temperament down on a Balinese people. This ignores a group a Balinese practice in harnessing tourism to support their sourroundings and communities.

During my work in Indonesia, we have seen farmers’ cooperatives that are conceptualizing rural volunteering opportunities for visitors that say environmentally tolerable land uses while honoring a origins of Balinese enlightenment – rice cultivation. Their creation contingency be famous and supported; these are a stories and lessons that should be common among whatever new Balis that are built.

The argument that tourism has busted Bali promotes dual damaging misrepresentations: First, it legitimizes a erect of a “real Bali” rooted in Dutch colonial attempts to shimmer over atrocities and that was combined by Westerners, not a Balinese; second, it ignores a many ways yet which the Balinese have appropriated an attention foisted on them to emanate a improved community.

Interestingly, we have listened this critique some-more from foreigners than from a Balinese people we correlate with, who customarily do not force such a visualisation on a island’s tourism industry.

What is generally attribution about a “ruined Bali” argument, then, is that a proponents pronounce with good intentions. Many are hyperconscious of interacting sensitively with Bali and a Balinese, yet in their well-intended attempt to strengthen a island, they eventually strengthen inauthentic colonial and neo-colonial narratives that omit a Balinese experience and agency. 

We need to pierce divided from these kinds of forceful judgments that revoke a complexity of tourism in Bali and instead concentration on some-more nuanced perspectives. In a efforts to find solutions to residence a genuine problems of sustainability on a island, we contingency also make an bid to remember what tourism unequivocally is for Bali. 

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