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Artifacts and Early Foreign Influences

The early history of Bali can be divided into a prehistoric and an early historic period. The former is marked by the arrival of Austronesian (Malayo-Polynesian) migrants beginning perhaps three to four thousand years ago. The Austronesians were hardy seafarers who spread from Taiwan through the islands of Southeast Asia to the Pacific in a series of extensive migrations that spanned several millennia. The Balinese are thus closely related, culturally and linguistically, to the peoples of the Philippines and Oceania as well as the neighboring islands of Indonesia.

Stone sarcophagi, seats and altars

Though precious little is known about the long, formative stages of Balinese prehistory, artifacts discovered around the island provide intriguing clues about Bali's early inhabitants. Prehistoric grave sites have been found in western Bali, the oldest probably dating from the first several centuries B.C. The people buried here were herders and farmers who used bronze, and in some cases iron, to make implements and jewelry. Prehistoric stone sarcophagi have also been discovered, mainly in the mountains. They often have the shape of huge turtles carved at either end with human and animal heads with bulging eyes, big teeth and protruding tongues.

Stone seats, altars and big stones dating from early times are still to be found today in several Balinese temples. Here, as elsewhere in Indonesia, they seem to be connected with the veneration of ancestral spirits who formed (and in many ways still form) the core of Balinese religious practices.

Also apparently connected with ancestor worship is one of Southeast Asia's greatest prehistoric artifacts - the huge bronze kettledrum known as the "Moon of Pejeng." Still considered to have significant power, it is now enshrined in a temple in the central Balinese village of Pejeng, in Gianyar Regency. More than 1.5 meters in diameter and 1.86 meters high, it is decorated with frogs and geometric motifs in a style that probably originated around Dongson, in what is now northern Vietnam. This is the largest of many such drums discovered in Southeast Asia.

Hindu-Javanese influences

It is assumed (but without proof so far) that the Balinese were in contact with Hindu and Buddhist populations of Java from the early part of the 8th century A.D. onwards, and that Bali was even conquered by a Javanese king in A.D. 732. This contact is responsible for the advent of writing and other important Indian cultural elements that had come to Java along the major trading routes several centuries earlier. Indian writing, dance, religion and architecture were to have a decisive impact, blending with existing Balinese traditions to form a new and highly distinctive culture.

Stone and copper plate inscriptions in Old Balinese are known from A.D. 882 onwards, coinciding with finds of Hindu- and Buddhist inspired statues, bronzes, ornamented caves, rock-cut temples and bathing places. These are found especially in areas close to rivers, ravines, springs and volcanic peaks.

At the end of the 10th and the beginning of the 11th centuries there were close, peaceful bonds with Indianized kingdoms in east Java, in particular with the realm of Kadiri (10th century A.D. to 1222). Old Javanese was thereafter the prestige language, used in all

Balinese inscriptions, evidence of a strong Javanese cultural influence. In 1284, Bali is said to have been conquered by King Krtanagara of the east Javanese Singhasari dynasty (1222-1292). It is not certain whether the island was actually colonized at this time, but many new Javanese elements manifest themselves in the Balinese art of this period.

According to a Javanese court chronicle known as the Nagarakrtagama (dated 1365), Bali was conquered and colonized in 1343 by Javanese forces under Gajah Mada, the legendary general or patih of the powerful Majapahit kingdom who established hegemony over east Java and all seaports bordering the Java Sea during the mid-14th century. It is said that Gajah Mada, accompanied by contingents of Javanese nobles, called aryas, came to Bali to subdue a rapacious Balinese king. A Javanese vassal ruler was installed at a new capital at Samprangan, near presentday lUungkung in east Bali, and the nobles were granted apanages in the surrounding areas. A Javanese court and courtly culture were thus introduced to the island.

The separation of Balinese society into four caste groups is ascribed to this period, with the satriya warrior caste ruling from Samprangan. Those who did not wish to participate in the new system fled to remote mountain areas, where they lived apart from the mainstream. These are the so-called 11 original Balinese," the Bali Aga or Bali Mula.

Around 1460, the capital moved to nearby Gelgel, and the powerful "Grand Lord" or Dewa Agung presided over a flowering of the Balinese arts and culture. Over time, however, the descendants of the aryas became increasingly independent, and from around 1700 began to form realms in other areas.

Reconstructing the past

Because ancestor veneration plays such an important role in Balinese religion, many groups possess family genealogies, known as babad. In such texts, the brahmana, satriya and wesya clans trace their ancestry to Majapahit kings, while the Bali Aga claim descent from even earlier Javanese rulers. There are also groups which claim as their ancestors Javanese Hindus and Buddhists who are said to have taken refuge in Bali from invading Muslim forces. Ibis probably gave rise to the story that entire Hindu-Buddhist populations of Java, with their valuables, books and other cultural baggage, fled to Bali after the fall of Majapahit. We do not know if this is true, as even up to the present day it is a common for families to re-write and improve their babad, depending on their circumstances.


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