The 'banjar' is the village council-the community extension of the house and family. Each Balinese village is divided into one or more 'banjar', a cooperative association of neighbors who assist each other in the preparation and financing of costly events. Each banjar swears separate allegiances to certain temples, palaces, and holidays.
More than any other factor, the banjar has kept intact the Balinese way of life through the decline of the local 'adat' (custom), princes, and chieftains. 'Banjar' captured most of the administrative power the 'desa' lost to the princes after the Dutch invasion, when land was divided among the people.
Its importance persists even in the modern Indonesian state. The 'banjar' today is the basic governmental unit of the village and is of immense help to the government in disseminating information and policy.
Problems with family planning and development programs have occurred because civil officials from government agencies have sometimes miscalculated the social, ritual, and administrative power of the 'banjar'. Even the bustling metropolis of Denpasar is rigidly divided into its many constituent 'banjar'.
Every adult belongs both to a 'desa' and a 'banjar'. Each household pays a subscription fee to its 'banjar'. When a man marries, membership is compulsory; otherwise he's considered a moral and spiritual outcast, denied even the right to burial in the village cemetery.
Some 'banjar' obligations may be considered even more important than family ties. Each member exists less as an individual than as one thread in the social fabric of the 'banjar'. The 'banjar' serves simultaneously as town council, tribunal, department of public works and welfare, and department of environment and sanitation.
It's a cross between a Masonic edge, a town planning committee, and a church congregation. It galvanizes the community to prepare for and participate in major feasts, rites, and dance performances. It votes in a democratic manner on road and temple construction; lays you beneath the ground.
A man usually marries within his 'banjar' and only takes on full status in the 'banjar' when he has sired a child.
Summoned by the beating of the 'kulkul' drum, attendance of all household heads is required at regular evening meetings. Absentees are fined. Since all decisions must be unanimous, new ideas take a long time to gain acceptance. In the meantime discussions proceed peacefully.
The 'banjar' is a community of equals; before the 'banjar' all castes are equal. The leader of the 'banjar', the 'klian', is elected by its members and approved through a medium by the gods. The 'klian' is unpaid but for small gifts like extra rice, a small percentage of collected fines, or an interest in a 'banjar' commercial venture. He may also be rewarded with rice fields close to an irrigation source.
It's common for the 'banjar' to sponsor youth groups (sekehe teruna) with their own pavilions in the village common. Ceremonies and regular meetings every fortnight prepare young people for the responsibilities of full 'banjar' membership. The local youth may initiate programs of their own, meeting, say, every Sunday morning to clean the streets and temples.
Young teen Balinese surfboard carriers on the Bukit Peninsula have created a 'banjar'-style organization to fix prices and network among themselves.
Banjar developed as organization of neighbors who engaged in group projects for the welfare of the community, worshipped in the same temples, and sought social contacts in each other's company. Even today, among families who have spent several generations in an urban setting away from the rice fields, the 'banjar' still plays an important role.
In most Balinese villages all married males are required to join a 'banjar'. The wives and children of these members are considered to belong to the 'banjar' too, but only the male heads of families go to regular meetings, and it is they who make the decisions.
Sizes of 'banjars vary considerably. Some urban 'banjars in Denpasar have 400 to 500 heads of families, called 'kepala keluarga' often abbreviated KK. Rural 'banjars' have as few as 50. One hundred is about average. Considering an average family of a husband, wife, and three or four children, the typical 'banjar' has about 500-600 people in it.
Theoretically, if the membership gets too large, the group should split in two, creating a new 'banjar' often goes back many generations-this does not often happen. In some villages the membership of some 'banjars' has grown so large that they no longer accept new members. They fill their waiting list only when members die.
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