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An Overview of History & Tourism in Bali

From as early as 100 BC people from Bali’s neighbour, Java, migrated to this little bit of paradise, bringing with them their rich and unique Hindu-Javanese culture.

The island was a part of successive Javanese empires and when Islam gained victory over Hinduism on Java in the 16th Century, Bali became a refuge for many of the nobles, priests and other intellectuals.

Since then this little jewel of an island has remained the only stronghold of Hinduism in the archipelago and a fountain of ancient Javanese civilisation.

The rule of the Majapahit Empire resulted in the initial influx of Javanese culture – and most of all the influence it had on Bali's architectural styles, dancing, painting, sculpture and the Wayang puppet theatre – all of which prevail in today’s modern world.

As Bali has drawn into closer contact with the outside world, traditions are challenged by modernisation and standardisation, but beyond the bustling towns, the old way of life still exists to a rather surprising degree.

The Balinese are a handsome nation; a rather frank and courteous, friendly and witty people that are fond of music, delicious varieties of food, poetry, dancing and festivals and are particularly talented in arts and crafts, games of chance and are especially fond of betting at cockfights.

In the interior there are a few walled villages inhabited by descendants of the aboriginal animistic people (Bali Aga).

The Dutch made no serious attempts to control Bali until 1882, when the north coast was occupied, followed in 1908 by the conquest of the south; even thereafter the Dutch government interfered as little as possible with the local customs, and it is the Hindu-Javanese way of life, reminiscent of Java in pre-Islam days, combined with the natural loveliness of the island that has made Bali renowned as a treasure trove of old Indonesian culture.

The island was colonised by the Dutch in the 1800’s and there are still many reminders of their influence – especially in their language and cuisine. Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese influences have also crept into the culture and cuisine leaving both generously spiced and distinctly flavoured.

By the 1960’s Bali had seen a decline in the number of festivals primarily due to the fact that economic progress could not quite keep up with the growing population.

Bali became part of the newly independent Republic of Indonesia in 1945 and in 1965, after the failed coup d’état which was supposedly backed by the Communist Party, state-instigated, anti-communist unrest spread throughout Indonesia.

In Bali, rumour had it that the rivers ran red with reprisal killings of suspected communists—most estimates of the death toll say 80,000, or about five percent of the population of Bali at the time.

The present chapter in Bali's history starts in the seventies when fearless hippies and surfers discovered Bali's beaches and waves. Soon Bali’s became a chief holiday destination and tourism was it's main income earner.

In spite of the shock of the terrorist attacks in 2002 and 2005 respectively, the magical island continues to be a major holiday destination to thousands of visitors, and Bali's culture remains as remarkable as ever.