110 years ago the royal house of Denpasar threw themselves onto their keris daggers rather than be subjugated by Dutch colonial forces.
Today there is a new-colonialism engulfing Bali, and the Balinese seem unwilling to show any resistance. The expatriate community has swollen out of control: various villa people — New agers and economic refugees from Western Australia with a penchant for proselytizing — seem to be taking control.
In the early days of tourism, a few people, mostly artists, fell in love with the island and stayed on to learn from the Balinese. These tourists were called tamiu (guests) or turis.
In the very old days all outsiders were called Tiang Jawi.
By the 1980s, the vaguely pejorative Jakarta word bule (albino) had replaced by turis — though love was still in the air.
After the Bali Bomb, when the sluice gates were flung open and foreign investment rules considerably relaxed, we saw a huge rise in the influx of expats. These newcomers tended to live in Seminyak but did not know they were in Bali. They seemed to be annoyed by the local culture rather than in awe of it — the processions that clogged the roads, and the cremations that kept people from work, gave them the dry trots. They drove black SUVs with blacked out windows: God help any native who got in the way.
In this column I have coined the term superbulé for this new breed.
Superbule wives were as strident as their husbands.
Rather than join in the mainstream Balinese communities — e.g., the temple or banjar communities — the expat wives found ‘causes’ which tended to focus on the grimy margins of Balinese society (the few impoverished mountain villages and the abortion clinics).
Taking stock today, we can see some trends.
For decades the Balinese have ignored the criticism about their inability to look after stray dogs, plastic waste, and unwanted babies, just as they had ignored the earlier turis smoking pot on the beach and cavorting half-naked at nightclubs — but this is changing.
There is talk of the government putting ‘etiquette refugees’ from Perth on Ceningan Island — in quarantine for a few weeks — and teaching them how to dress properly, and basic punctuation (before they cause havoc after hitting the ground with Facebooks open).
In fact Facebook has become the preferred forum for rants about injustice and Bali’s shortcomings: there are Facebook pages devoted to Crime, Animal Welfare, and the Health Care Systems here. Ubud Expats Page just announced ‘Stray Dog Prolapse Concern Week’.
To be fair, the expat community does a lot of good too. Social media campaigns have resulted in a more strident Tourism Police, better education about waste management, and huge donations to many worthy causes (the John Fawcett Foundation for Eye Care, and the Annika Linden Foundation, to mention just two).
The rants on Facebook can be both passionate — demanding respect for the Balinese culture — and poisonous. Toxic rants point out the futility of making offerings for the gods’ protection, for example, when many locals here drive motorbikes like suicidal maniacs!
This October, I was asked to join a panel on this subject with Wayan Juniarta, the affable urban editor of Bali Daily, and Rucina Ballinger, who married Anak Agung Detra Rangki, a Mengwi prince, in 1986 and has since had many careers in the arts and philanthropy on the island.
Originally the subject was just about superbulés, but as it was a Writers’ Festival event, the other panelists agreed with me to concentrate on the superbulé writers on the expat Facebook pages — Bali Expat, Bali Crime Report, ‘When is too much development too much’ (100,000 followers!) and Ubud Community (Yoga Hagisphere Central).
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Recently a sizeable group of feisty Balinese women have started taking on the superbulé on Facebook about their sense of entitlement and their neo-colonial attitudes. Most are either western-educated or from ruling class families but they come out of their corner with fists flying.
“Throw him in the sea”, said one delectable Desak.
“If you don’t like the Balinese, just leave”, came another comment.
Paradoxically, many Bulé Aga (old hand ‘ingrained’ expats) get their knuckles rapped by the same girl-gang when they get too judgmental about directions in decorum of temple dress. ‘Let the Gods decide’ came the chorus after a Denpasar bimbo posted Vargas Girls snaps of herself flashing her ample breasts on the stairs of the mother temple.
25 September - 3 October, 2014: A busy literary week. My Majapahit Style book is finally launched; and the superbulé talk goes well at the Writers’ Festival
Six years ago, I was invited by a group of Dutch amateur archaeologists to be on a team investigating the ruins of Majapahit, the last great Hindu empire of East Java (1293 to around 1500). This lead to a book – a comprehensive overview (360 glossy pages, available at Ganesha Bookstores island-wide) of the architecture, ceremonies and costumes of Java and Bali today that could be considered Majapahit-derivative.
Dry stuff for the casual tourist, but a breakthrough of sorts for those interested in Indonesian art history, I am told. Anyway, the launch party was a riotous success, hosted by Australian Consul-General to Bali Majell Hind with guest of honour Cokorda Pemecutan XI. The Cokorda (CP XI) is the royal custodian of Dalem Majapahit the old empire’s deity, who ‘resides’, at the Pura Tambang Badung in Denpasar, according to local priests.
The book has received a glowing review in the Jakarta Post, by the champion of the Tart-Bogans, Bali’s funnies sit-down comedian, Wayan Juniartha, no less. He points out that all the Balinese royals now have a book to satiate their appetite for Javanese ancestry.
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3rd October, 2014
My panel at the clitterati festival in Ubud is a huge success: old hippies are hanging from the rafters. In the Facebook frenzy that follows the discussion two new phrases emerge to help qualify the New Age mayhem now engulfing the once sleepy town: ‘Colon Whisperers’ and ‘Hormonal Holocaust’.
Congratulations Janet de Neefe and team on yet another spectacular week of book-related larks and sparks in Ubud!
VALE Prof. Dr Litt. Dr I.Gusti Putu Palgunadi M.A. of Puri Gerenceng, Denpasar. 3 January 1948 – 24 September 2014
Younger brother of Pak Alit of Alit's bungalows, Sanur. One of Indonesia and Bali's most respected academics — he spent 35 years teaching in India.
I took this dashing photo of Gung Palgunadi in 1979 when he was 25 and I was a youngish palace groupie — his uncle was a great Balinese lontar expert — before he escaped to India to persue the quiet life of an academic.
He was one of very few sweet but serious student princes in a community of hyper-macho skirt-chasers (I mean that in a caring, pro-triwangsa way) and many felt that he left the obligations of Balinese palace life to find peace abroad, in scholarship.
He returned a few years ago, in poor health, still the shy single prince, and lived quietly, alone, with one infirm uncle and one retainer in the large palace.