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Early History

While Bali's recorded history is scant, even in the last 100 years, there is evidence of a Stone Age people dating to around 2,500 B.C. and the arrival of the first migrations of the Austronesian people. These rice-eating travelers of Chinese and Malayan descent arrived via the maritime trade routes of Southeast Asia via Taiwan and the Philippines, cultivating rice as they went. They first introduced and developed the complex irrigation system, subak, which survives to this day.

A Bronze Age people of Chinese and Vietnamese descent from the Dong Son area of Vietnam arrived in the 3rd century B.C., who brought bronze, copper, and iron. Their first sites were in the northwest at Cekik near what is now Gilimanuk and also inland at Sembiran. Evidence from these sites indicates a population of fishermen, hunters, and farmers. Their graves show evidence of metallurgy and that they had by this stage acquired the skills to cast or smelt copper, bronze, and iron themselves.

The lasting influence for much of Bali came from the Indian traders who arrived around the 1st century A.D. These mainly peaceful merchants also brought Hinduism. By the 5th century, a Hindu kingdom had been founded in Bali.

Bali's history, as a whole, is populated with many different groups of people; much of these diverse communities lived self sufficiently and independently from each other. Indonesia claims to be a mix of some 250 ethnic groups, and the Balinese have their own special genetic blend of Chinese and Malay, with traces of Polynesian and Melanesian mixed in with Indian and Javanese.

Among the diverse groups that arrived in Bali after the original Chinese settlers, were a group of only some 400 who arrived from the village of Aga, in East Java, around the 8th century. They settled in the remote mountainous area around Gunung Agung and their communities prospered. Bali Aga societies survive intact and to this day decry and resist most forms of outside influence -- with little or no contact with the outside world, their arcane ways are still evident in their original colonies of Campuhan, Taro, Tegalalang, and Batur. Their societal structures exist on rigid and ancient rules and visits by outsiders and tourists can still be a daunting and occasionally harrowing experience. They remain a tough and hardened society, far removed from much of Bali that most visitors know.

The topography of the island therefore gave way to two forms of living, the people of the mountains and the people of the sea. It is the gentrified southern and coastal people, with their civilizing Javanese customs and easy natural resources, that has given Bali its overarching identity.

By the 11th century, the influence of the Javanese, with their then predominately Hindu beliefs, was being felt more and more. Initially they came peacefully and shared reciprocal political and artistic ideals. This union of the two islands, Bali and Java, was cemented under the rule of Javanese King Airlangga, whose mother moved to Bali shortly after his birth. This informal connection allowed Bali to remain semi-autonomous for the next 200 years until King Kertanegara conquered Bali in 1284.

Though his reign was short lived (he was murdered about 8 years later), his son, the great Vijaya, founded the Majapahit dynasty, which lasted from 1293 to 1520. The influence of this dynasty reached as far afield as the Malaysian peninsula and the very eastern extent of what is now the Republic of Indonesia. The Majapahit bequeathed to Bali many of the features of its present-day society, from the style of royal rule, to its architecture, and the structures of its temples. It also brought the principles of the caste system, which are adhered to today.

The ascendancy of Islam and its spread into Java in the late 15th century caused the Hindu Majapahit dynasty to falter and ultimately disintegrate into feuding sultanates. The last Javanese Majapahit king high-tailed it to Bali, taking with him many of the court's intellectuals, artists, and priests. This wave of culture and spirituality formed the basis of Balinese society that we see today as a rich and cultured heritage.

Included in this exodus was the great priest Nirartha who, it is believed, introduced many of the complexities of Balinese religion and was a founder of many of the major temples on the island. Bali's Hindu influences and the unique way of life have managed to withstand the dominance of Islam for centuries since. Bali remains the only non-Islamic island in the whole of Indonesia.

The Advent of Colonialism

Marco Polo in 1292 and Vasco de Gama around 1512 were known to have reached Indonesia, but the first European to set foot on Bali is credited as the Dutchman Cornelis de Houtman in 1597. He, like many others since, was captivated with the island and when it came time to leave, it is said that it took him almost a year to round up his crew. The Dutch were more driven by financial gain than cultural pleasures and the control of the Spice Islands, the Moluccas, was a higher priority than the beauty and charms of Bali. The Dutch, while not taking any forceful control, established trading posts in Bali instead.

Dutch colonial control expanded across the Indonesian archipelago in the early part of the 19th century, including an increasing presence in Bali. By then, Bali's independent kingdoms we know today, Klungkung, Karangasem, Buleleng, Jembrana, Tabanan, Mengwi, Badung, Gianyar, and Bangli, had taken shape. The Dutch were intent on adding the whole of Bali to their colonial ambitions and set about its capture. It took separate and simultaneous wars from 1846 to 1849, and the actions of various Balinese kings using the colonizers to advance their own local ends, for the Dutch to take control of even just the north of the island. And it was not until the wars of the rajahs, from 1884 to 1894, that the Dutch finally extended their rule to the east. Karangasem and Lombok fell in 1894 and finally the Rajah of Gianyar, in a ploy where self interest took precedence over island sovereignty, was convinced by the new Lords of Ubud, to make peace with the Dutch.

The south refused to yield to Dutch rule and while some of the older guard preached peace, they were overruled by a group of headstrong young princes who defeated the Dutch in a surprise attack. Needless to say, the Dutch did not take this lightly and a larger force was dispatched to Bali to make a stand against the stubbornly resistant and proud southern kingdoms of Tabanan, Klungkung, and Badung. And yet, the Dutch were still seeking justification for an all-out assault.

In 1904, a Chinese schooner struck the reef near Sanur. The Dutch government made what were essentially unreasonable demands for compensation, which was refused by the Rajah of Badung, with the support of Tabanan and Klungkung. A dispute over the rights to plunder the cargo ships (traditionally held by the Balinese) presented the Dutch with the reasoning needed to launch a new attack. In 1906 the full force of the Dutch navy rocked up at Sanur, initiating the Badung War. After blockading the southern ports and having had various ultimatums ignored, the Dutch mounted large naval and ground assaults and in September they marched on the palace of Badung.

At the palace, the Dutch were not met by expected resistance, but instead by a silent procession with the rajah at the lead dressed in white cremation garb, armed only with a kris, followed by his supporters. His march stopped some 100 paces from the Dutch and then a priest plunged the kris in to his chest. The rest of the procession followed suit and proceeded to either kill themselves or others in the procession, all of whom had voluntarily entered into a rite known as puputan. Sensing certain defeat at the guns of the heavily armed Dutch, the noble Balinese decided not to suffer the ignominy of defeat or surrender but rather had their death rites applied and took part in a ritual mass suicide. Despite the Dutch pleas for them to surrender, this puputan ended in the deaths of an estimated 4,000 Balinese men, women, and children. That same afternoon a similar event took place at the palace of Pemecutan. The Rajah of Tabanan and his son surrendered, but both committed suicide 2 days later in a Dutch prison. The last remaining regency, Klungkung, brokered a peace deal.

Not surprisingly, the atrocity of the puputan garnered worldwide condemnation and even a member of the Dutch Upper House of Parliament labeled the scandal the "extermination of a heroic race." Holland's image as a responsible and evenhanded colonial power was seriously compromised.

The deal that had been brokered with Klungkung fell apart when the Dutch attempted to take monopoly control of the opium trade. Riots erupted in Gianyar and the Dutch sent the troops back in, forcing the rajah to flee to Klungkung. He attempted an all-out attack, initially by himself, armed only with a ceremonial kris believed to wreak havoc on the enemy. He was brought down by a single bullet. His six wives, seeing the death of their beloved, turned their kris on themselves and committed suicide. They were then followed by the others in the procession coming out of the palace. With this last puputan, the Dutch could finally claim victory over the island.

The victory proved to be spiritually and morally empty and the Dutch governors were able to exercise little influence. Local control over religion and culture generally remained intact. For most commoners, life went on whether they were being ruled by their new colonial masters or their previous rajahs.

The advent of tourism and travel after the Great War brought new influences and greater worldwide attention to Bali. The island became home to anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, and artists Miguel Covarrubias and Walter Spies. Musicologist Colin McPhee, in his book A House in Bali, fostered the Western image of Bali as "an enchanted land of aesthetes at peace with themselves and nature." Celebrity visitors such as Noel Coward and Charlie Chaplin, Barbara Hutton and Doris Duke, helped make Bali synonymous with a latter-day Garden of Eden. It was at about the same time that Pandit Nehru, the reflective and scholarly first Prime Minister of India, described Bali as the "Dawn of the World." Western tourism landed on the island.

The Road to Independence

Dutch rule over Bali came later than in other parts of the East Indies, such as Java and Maluku, and it was never as well established. Despite the long road to colonization, the Dutch period lasted only until Imperial Japan occupied Bali in 1942, for the duration of World War II. After Japan's Pacific surrender in August 1945, the Dutch attempted to return to Indonesia, including Bali, and to reinstate their prewar colonial administration. But Indonesia and Bali resisted, this time armed with Japanese weapons. One of the many heroes of the time was the wartime resistance leader Colonel I Gusti Ngurah Rai who spent the war years tormenting the Japanese. His death in an almost suicidal attack, considered the final puputan, is another footnote in the heroic history of Bali and its warriors.

The Dutch tried to maintain their colonial rule for another 4 years before finally conceding that they no longer had a role as masters in the East Indies. The Republic of Indonesia that had been originally constituted by Sukarno and Mohammed Hatta, in the immediate aftermath of WWII, now included Bali and the other 12 island states the Dutch had attempted to retain. On December 29, 1949, with the inclusion of these last states in the Republic of the United States of Indonesia, the curtain came down on the Dutch East Indies.

Post-Colonial Indonesia: from 1949 Onward

The tentative federation, led by Sukarno and Mohammed Hatta, attempted to consolidate this 17,000-island nation. The road to peace and prosperity was not without its troubles. Sukarno, who had been a revolutionary, moved from democracy to autocracy and on to authoritarianism. Regional and factional problems led him eventually, in July 1959, to dissolve the assembly and assume full dictatorial powers. Increasingly, Sukarno was becoming pro-Communist and received aid from Communist sources. He made little secret of his desire to make amends for centuries of Western colonialism in Southeast Asia and he was perhaps driven more by this than any actual Communist sympathies. In 1963, he went as far as to make a stand against the formation of the federation of Malaysia, seeing it as a puppet for continued British rule. He was ultimately unsuccessful and failed to bring the disputed, now Malay lands, of northern Borneo into the Indonesian Republic.

The economic cost of this failure on the fledgling economy coupled with his alienation from the West and resulting lack of financial support when it was most needed, created hyperinflation. which lasted throughout the early part of the decade. The resulting social unrest and his failing health weakened his iron grip on the country.

Matters came to a head on the night of September 30, 1965, when eight senior generals were taken from their houses, supposedly by a group of Communist renegade army divisions, and either summarily executed or taken to Halim airport where they met the same fate. The later justification that these actions were taken to prevent an army-led coup did not convince many. A certain General Suharto convinced the other surviving generals to plan their own countermove and in a surprisingly easy manner, regained control of the military faction. Sukarno stayed in power but Suharto had emerged as a major political figure.

The backlash against the Communists in 1965 after the attempted coup is one of the bloodiest in Indonesian history. Bali was the scene of some of the worst atrocities, where mobs rounded up suspected Communists and sometimes just clubbed them to death. As many as 500,000 suspected Communists or ethnic Chinese were massacred in Indonesia with about 100,000 in Bali alone -- at the time, 5% of Bali's population. Sukarno, who had enjoyed unprecedented levels of popularity, was on his way out. Finally in 1966, Sukarno fled the presidential palace and only nominally remained president for another year.

Under Suharto, the military gained far-reaching influence over national affairs. For the next 3 decades, until his undoing by the economic crisis of 1997, Indonesia enjoyed a period of sustained prosperity, even despite Suharto's embezzling autocracy and his cronies' horrific graft. Fortunately the economic meltdown had an upside: the resulting riots and protests brought an end to Suharto's military-led rule and in June 1999, Indonesians enjoyed their first free parliamentary election since 1955. They overwhelmingly ousted the incumbent.

Indonesia achieved a tentative peace under a provisional democratic government headed by President Megawati, daughter of Sukarno. She inherited political instability and an economy in crisis, but she addressed corruption and the military's human rights record. However, her rule only lasted until 2004 when she was defeated by the former military general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, otherwise known as SBY. His coalition government, based on his moral code of honesty and anticorruption, has also come out on top in the elections of 2009.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.