A Short History

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Bali was first settled by South Indian people and perhaps Chinese immigrants sometime around 2000 BC and after working on it for 2,000 years the complex irrigation system that is still the focal point of Balinese agriculture and way of life today was established. Things remained pretty much unchanged until the 11th century.
Around 1010 AD a Balinese Prince named Airlangga, a son of King Udayana took over East Java intending to unite it with Bali under his rule. Successful, he subsequently appointed his brother, Anak Wungsu, to rule Bali . As such there was a great deal of commerce between Bali and Java bringing with it an exchange of politics and arts. It was at this time the Balinese adopted the Javanese language, Bahasa Kawi (Kawi Language) that is still used today for both communications and ceremonial.

Airlangga's death brought on several wars waged by Javanese Kings to continue the Javanese control of Bali . Finally in 1343 Bali succumbed to Javanese control, under Majapahit Hindu Kingdom, based in East Jawa, when it was defeated by a General by the name of Great  Patih Gajah Mada from the Majapahit Empire, the last Hindu Javanese empire.

When Islam began spreading south from Sumatra into Java in the 16th century, the Majapahit empire collapsed and a large number of aristocrats, priests, and artists fled to Bali . This condition made most Hindu followers in Indonesia live on Bali island. 

Since then until the Dutch arrived in 1597 little changes happens,  except the culture continued to be refined - which is where we pick up the story.

The People of Bali

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The Balinese were not able to develop and sustain their extremely complex agricultural economy for centuries on end without a very organized community structure. The basis of this community structure is the Subak and the Banjar. Everyone who owns a rice paddy must join the Subak in their village. The Subak controls who will plant rice and when (plantings are staggered so that pestilence is minimized). As well and more importantly the Subak ensures that all farmers receive their fair share of irrigation water since traditionally the head of Subak was the farmer whose field was at the bottom of the hill and water first had to pass through everybody else's field before it was allowed to irrigate his feild.

The other important community structure, the Banjar, organizes all other aspects of Balinese life (i.e. marriages, cremations, community service, festivals and the like). When a man marries he is expected to join the village Banjar and must participate in community affairs. Meetings are held at a large open air building called the Bale Banjar.

Religion

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The Balinese religion are about 90 % Hindu and they worship the Hindu trinity Gods such as  Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, the Balinese Hindu religion is very different from the Indian variety. They do have a caste system but there is no untouchable. The caste system is most evident in the language which has three levels: a low level for commoners, a mid level to address strangers and a high level only used when addressing aristocracy.

The Balinese are an unusual island people in that they have never been sea faring people. They believe that good spirits dwell in the mountains and that the seas are home to demons. Most villages have at least three main temples: one of which is the Pura Puseh or temple of origin, is dedicated to the village founders and which faces to Mt Agung - home to Pura Besakih, the mother temple on Bali. Together with the other two village temples each house may several temples and as well as rice fields, markets etc. etc. etc. Now you can see why Bali is often referred to as the Island of the Gods.

The Balinese are extremely devout and no day goes by without making offerings to the gods. These daily offerings - called Banten are a major part of Balinese life. You will see these offerings nearly everywhere in Bali. Made of flowers, cigarettes, cookies, rice and even sometimes money (the actual items used are not as important as the process of making and offering it to the spirits) these offerings are given to the good spirits in hopes of continued prosperity as well as to the evil spirits as an appeasement.

Simple Etiquette

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