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The North

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The important and historic realm of Buleleng is a narrow strip of land running the entire length of the island. Bounded to the north by the Bali Sea, it shares borders with Karangasem to the east and with Jembrana, Tabanan, Badung and Bangli to the south. The spectacular chain of volcanoes that stretches right across the island for a distance of some 150 kms forms a natural frontier between Buleleng and all of the southern regencies. These mountains often appear as a distant backdrop, while at other times they seem to gently unfold right down to the coast. Lying between the mountains and the sea, Buleleng is a region of exquisite natural beauty.

In former times, the mountain range hampered contact with the rest of Bali, which in turn gave rise to Buleleng's discrete culture. Buleleng also differs geographically from south Bali: its climate is drier and wet rice cultivation is not as widespread. In the western portion of Buleleng much of Bali's fruit is produced, while the area is also renowned for the cultivation of coffee and cloves.

Buleleng today

The modern administrative unit of Buleleng consists of nine kecamatan (sub-districts). It covers almost a third of Bali's total surface area, is more than half again as large as any other kabupaten, and has the largest population with some 546,000 inhabitants.

In former times, Buleleng was the site of Bali's major port, and was therefore the island's traditional point of contact with the outside world. Even today, there are many Muslims and Chinese here (though there are now many more in Denpasar), and the main city of Singaraja has a feeling that is quite different from any other town in Bali.

Since the main harbor was relocated to Benoa in south Bali and especially since the removal of many government offices from Buleleng to the south in recent years, there has been quite an exodus of government employees and skilled workers, and, as a result, a corresponding diminution of the region's influence within Bali. But do not let this situation mislead you - Buleleng was never a sleeping giant, as its vibrant history and rich cultural legacy attest.

Buleleng history and culture

According to local historical texts, Buleleng rose to prominence in the second half of the 17th century under Ki Gusti Ngurah Panji Sakti, founder of the Buleleng dynasty. During his reign Buleleng conquered territory both in Bali and in east Java and became a major power broker in the region. But its glory soon waned under the reign of Panji Sakti's great-grand children, whose rivalry enabled the ruler of Karangasem to usurp the throne. In 1823 Buleleng successfully revolted against Karangasern, although its independence was to be short-lived.

The Dutch, eager to establish a foothold in Bali, subjugated Buleleng in 1849, but only after suffering two military defeats at the hands of determined defenders. Even so, sporadic uprisings against the Dutch took place over the next two decades. Ironically, Dutch control of Buleleng brought the region into a position of great power once again, for Singaraja became the center of the Dutch administrative presence in Bali.

Dutch control of north Bali predated their conquest of the south by more than 50 years consequently the Dutch presence is more in evidence here. Dutch architecture has influenced many buildings constructed during the colonial period, while the character of Buleleng's inhabitants tends to be more egalitarian and direct than that of their southern counterparts.

Culturally, as well, Buleleng has always been a leader. Famed in the traditional arts, Buleleng's dancers, musicians and singers have made a dramatic impact on south Bali in this century. The fast and furious kebyar style of music and dance, perfected in the south by Mario, originated in Buleleng. Following the Japanese occupation and the struggle for Indonesian independence, Buleleng's hegemony in the traditional arts began to wane. But as always, Buleleng has succeeded in reemerging as a leading force, this time in modern expressions of Balinese culture such as the drama gong and creative gamelan compositions.

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