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There are four major groups: brahmana, satriya, wesya, and Sudra (jaba). The brahmana are the priest caste; the satriya, the nobility, and the wesya, the former vassals of the court. Everyone else is Sudra (jaba).
Balinese names are coded to reveal both caste and birth order within the family. Nothing, of course, is simple, especially when considering inter-caste marriages, and there are always exceptions. However, the following are clues to interpreting names:
Ida Bagus (male) and Ida Ayu (female) indicate brahmana caste. Gusti is normally used by members of the wesya caste, whereas Gusti Agung, Anak Agung, and Cokorda are reserved for the high-ranking members of the satriya caste. Desak (female) and Dewa (male) are lower-ranking satriya. I (normally male) and Ni (female) are usually used by the Sudra (jaba).
Wayan, Made, Nyoman, and Ketut mean firstborn, second-born, third-born, and fourth-born, respectively. Beginning with the fifth child in the family, the cycle is repeated. Also used similarly to indicate birth order are Putu, Kadek, Komang, and Ketut. Nengah may be used by either the second or third-born child. The birth order names are normally used only by the Sudra (jaba) caste, so don't call a member of the satriya caste Wayan even if you happen to know that he/she is the oldest in the family!


In the areas of Indonesia most frequented by Europeans, many are familiar with the strange ways of Westerners. But it is best to be aware of how certain aspects of your behavior will be viewed. You will not be able to count on an Indonesian to set you straight when you commit a faux pas. They are much too polite. They will stay silent or even reply tidak apa apa (no problem) if you ask if you did something wrong. So here are some points to keep in mind:

  • The left hand is considered unclean as it is used for cleaning oneself in the bathroom. It is inappropriate to use the left hand to eat or to give or receive anything with it. When you do accidentally use your left hand then say "ma'af, tangan kiri" (please excuse my left hand).
  • The head is considered the most sacred part of the body and, hence, the feet the least sacred. Avoid touching people on the head. Go for the elbow instead. Never step over food or expose the sole of your foot toward anyone.
  • As it is impolite to keep one's head higher than others, it is appropriate to acknowledge the presence of others by stooping (extending the right arm, drooping the right shoulder, and leaning forward) while passing closely by someone who is sitting.
  • Pointing with the index finger is impolite. Indonesians use their thumbs (palm turned upward, fingers curled in) or open palms instead.
  • Summoning people by crooking the forefinger is impolite. Rather, wave downward with a flat palm face down.
  • Alcohol is frowned upon in Islam, so take a look around you and consider taking it easy.
  • Hands on hips is a sign of superiority or anger. W' Indonesians don't blow their noses. Keep a handkerchief handy.
  • Take off your shoes when you enter someone's house. Often the host will stop you, but you should go through the motions until he does.
  • Wait for a verbal offer before devouring food and drinks that have been placed in front of you. Sip your drink and don't finish it in one gulp. Never take the last morsels from a common plate.
  • You will often be invited to eat with the words makan, makan ("eat, eat") if you pass somebody who is eating. This is not really an invitation, but simply means "Excuse me as I eat."
  • If someone prepares a meal or drink for you it is most impolite to refuse.
Some things from the west filter through to Indonesia more effectively than others and stories of "free sek" (free sex) made a deep and lasting impression in Indonesia. Expect this topic to appear in lists of questions you will be asked in your cultural exchanges. It is best to explain how things have changed since the 1960s and how we now are stuck with "saf sek."
Bali may seem to have been placed here just for you personal enjoyment, but it is not a zoo. Be aware of Balinese sensibilities. Remember the Balinese are offended if the casual visitor does not dress appropriately when entering a temple. A sash over shorts and a T-shirt or a very brief top is not adequate. Have a sarong and sash handy for temple visits and ceremonies, and wear long pants or a skirt and a decent shirt with collar when leaving the beach areas.

Keeping Your Cool

At government offices like immigration or police, talking loudly and forcefully doesn't make things easier. Patience and politeness are virtues that will open many doors in Indonesia.
Good manners and dress are also to your advantage.


Luckily for those with children, the Balinese are very gentle and love to have kids around. But you should bring essentials: sunhats, creams, medicines, special foods, and a separate water container for babies to be sure of always having sterile water. Disposable diapers are available in big supermarkets. Nights can be cool sometimes, so bring some warm clothing for your child. Milk, eggs, fruit which you can peel and porridges are readily available in the supermarkets here. Babysitters are available for a moderate charge at any hotel.
An excellent general practitioner and family doctor is Dr. AA Made Djelantik, Jl. Hayam Waruk 190 (Bunderan Renon 101), Denpasar 80235, Phone 238171. Consultations weekdays. General practitioner and pediatrician Dr. Conny Pangkahila is at J1. Bypass Ngurah Rai 25X in Sanur (next to Ritra Cargo). Home phone, Phone 288128; pager Phone 234139 #302.



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