Bali is 153km (95 miles) east to west and 111km (69 miles) from tip to toe. Though small, a rich millennia of history has fostered an artistically diverse population, with virtually all of the Balinese being skilled craftsmen, dancers, or artists, and a spiritually blessed life, with more temples than houses, and ceremonies that last for days or even weeks. The island has beaches, volcanoes, terrace after terrace of rice paddies, mountain treks, arts and crafts, rivers and rafting, ceremonies and blessings, mountain-top sunrises, and beachside sunsets. Whichever Bali you are looking for, it is waiting to be found. Ask a typical visitor or expat what Bali means to them and you'll get many answers. Small does not mean limited.
Bali's Royal Regency Past -- Bali is divided into one municipality, Denpasar, and eight regencies. Each regency has a capital, which further consists of a number of districts, divided into villages and then comprised of a banjar, or a series of banjars, which are the local, traditional neighborhood organizations.
Today's regencies have historic roots. The south coast at Gelgel was settled by the son of the last Rajah of Majapahit who declared himself the King of Bali or the Dewa Agung. The Dewa, in an attempt at some form of orderly rule, subdivided the island into principalities, which he then gave to his relatives and generals to govern. Over time, these principalities became increasingly independent and their descendants became princelings and then rajahs of smaller kingdoms. Many of the princelings set out to extend their influence and lands beyond their limited principalities and conquered, among others, the neighboring lands of Lombok and Sumbawa.
The arrival of the Dutch in the 17th century with their superior arms, organized forces, and willingness to trade were fundamental in Bali's development by not allowing any one dynasty to dominate. The local regencies took the somewhat pragmatic approach of recognizing Dutch supremacy and engaging in trade treaties while retaining, or more accurately being allowed to retain, their local autonomy. The Dutch themselves had their eyes on greater prizes, notably the Spice Islands, and they largely left Bali to its own devices. However, with the increasing interest of the British in the region, Bali became strategically important, given the proximity to the Dutch lands and plantations in nearby Java. The regencies of Buleleng, Jembrana, and then Karangesem, Gianyar, and Bangli all submitted themselves to Dutch control leaving the remaining three of Badung and Tabanan in 1906 and Klungkung in 1908 to fall in the dreadful puputans.
Ancestors of the royal families still live and work in what is left of their palaces although they now use their old homes as hotels or guesthouses or antiques shops. But the Balinese, with the caste system still relevant if not completely intact, retain their regents as the center of their community.
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