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Bali Travel Guide

Bali — History and Culture

Bali is much more than just a tropical setting hidden behind a wall of tourist-influenced mayhem. The island is one of historical strength and pride. The history of Bali can be traced to the pre-historic periods of the Stone and Neolithic ages. Villages in the north and western regions, including Cecik and Sembiran, have revealed fascinating artifacts which have been carbon dated as several thousands of years old. Burial sites and musical equipment have also been discovered in other parts of the island.

Even in its early years, Bali was an important trading destination for other islands in Southeast Asia. Balinese society was heavily influenced by the East Java culture. The Hindu Majapahit Empire took control of in the late 1200s. By 1343, a colony was established, and the island became predominantly Hindu.

Locals who disliked the take-over from the Hindu Majapahit Empire fled inland to high grounds, including Batur Lake. Here, a unique Balinese highland culture developed, which is still prevalent today. The cultures today are commonly referred to as the original Balinese, or Bali Aaga, who still profoundly practice ancient laws and traditions.

After 1515, when the Majapahit Empire of East Java was overthrown, many of the Hindu priests, spiritual followers and intellectuals moved here, engulfing the island with Hindu culture. Anthropologists see Bali’s isolation as the reason why it remained Hindu, while Islam came to dominate the majority of Indonesia.

The Dutch were the first explorers to settle in Bali, as the Dutch East India Company grew substantially after establishment in 1602. The Dutch continued to expand within Indonesia over the following two and a half centuries. By 1840, the Dutch had complete political control over Bali (which was then part of Dutch East India), but allowed local tribes and villages to control their religion and ancient practices without interference.

The Japanese ended Dutch rule in the 1930’s, but the Dutch re-took control following 1945. Balinese rebels fought against colonial Dutch forces in the years following the war, but were quickly defeated by the stronger Dutch army. Bali became part of the State of East India until 1949, when the Dutch seceded from Indonesia, rendering the Southeast Asian nation an independent republic.

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