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  History of Bali

There are few traces of Stone Age people on Bali, although it's almost certain that the island was inhabited very early in prehistoric times. Nor do we know much about Bali during the period when Indian traders brought Hinduism to the Indonesian archipelago. The earliest written records are inscriptions on a stone pillar near Sanur dating from around the 9th century AD. Hindu Java began to spread its influence into Bali in the first half of the 11th century, when the rock-cut memorials at Gunung Kawi were sculpted.

The Javanese Singasari dynasty conquered Bali in 1284, but when it collapsed shortly afterwards Bali regained its autonomy and the Pejeng dynasty, centred near modern-day Ubud, rose to great power. The Pejeng king was defeated by the great Majapahit dynasty in 1343 and Bali was brought back under Javanese influence. As Islam took hold in Java in the 15th century, the Majapahit kingdom collapsed and many of its intelligentsia moved to Bali. They included key priests who were credited with introducing many of the complexities of Balinese religion. Javanese artists, dancers and musicians also sought sanctuary in Bali, and the island experienced an explosion of cultural activity.

The first Europeans to set foot on Bali were Dutch seamen in 1597. Setting a tradition that has prevailed to the present day, they fell in love with the island and, when the ship's captain prepared to set sail, several of his crew refused to come with him. By the early 1600s the Dutch had established trade treaties with Javanese princes and had wrestled control of the spice trade from the Portuguese. They were, however, more interested in profit than culture and hardly gave Bali a second glance.

In the early 18th century, as local rule in Bali began to fracture, the Dutch began muscling in using the tried and tested divide-and-rule policy. They used Balinese salvage claims over shipwrecks as a pretext to land military forces in northern Bali in 1846. Teaming up with the Sasaks of Lombok to defeat the rajahs of Bali proved a bad tactic when the Sasaks changed their minds and slaughtered the Dutch. This incensed the Dutch so much that they invaded Bali with a heavy military force and severed Bali's control of its smaller neighbour. With the north under Dutch control and ties with Lombok severed, the south of Bali was not going to remain autonomous for long. In 1904, another salvage dispute resulted in Dutch warships appearing off Sanur.

It took Dutch troops five days to reach the outskirts of Denpasar. Surrounded by superior forces, Balinese royalty and religious leaders decided to take the honourable path of a suicidal puputan - a fight to the death - rather than surrender. First the palaces were burnt, then - dressed in their finest jewellery and waving golden daggers - the rajah led the royalty and priests out to face the Dutch and their modern weapons. The Dutch begged the Balinese to surrender, but their pleas went unheard and wave after wave of Balinese nobility marched forward to their death. In all, nearly 4000 Balinese died.

As other local kingdoms capitulated or were defeated, the entire island came under Dutch control and became a part of the Dutch East Indies. There was little development of exploitative plantation economy on Bali, and common people noticed very little difference between rule by the Dutch and rule by the rajahs. Despite the long prelude to colonisation, Dutch rule over Bali was short-lived; Indonesia soon fell to the Japanese in WWII.

At the end of WWII, the Indonesian leader Sukarno proclaimed independence, but it took 4 more years to persuade the Dutch that they were not going to get their colony back. In a virtual repeat of the puputan nearly half a century earlier, a Balinese resistance group was wiped out in the Battle of Marga in 1946. In 1949, the Dutch finally recognised Indonesia's independence. In 1965, an attempted coup blamed on communists led to Sukarno's downfall. General Suharto - the current leader of Indonesia - suppressed the coup and emerged as a major political figure.

The Communist Party was outlawed and a wave of anti-communist reprisals followed. On Bali, local communists were perceived as a threat to traditional values and the caste system because of their calls for land reform and an end to social repression. Religious traditionalists took advantage of the post-coup hysteria and led a witch hunt against communist sympathisers. Mobs rounded up suspected communists and clubbed them to death. The Chinese community was particular victimised before the army stepped in and restored order, but no-one on Bali was untouched by the killings. An estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people were killed, at a time when the island's population only totalled 2 million.

Suharto established himself as president, and under his government Indonesia looked to the West for alliances and investments. On Bali, economic growth and dramatic improvements in infrastructure were achieved by hugely expanding the tourist industry. This also resulted in the displacement of local populations and disruption of many traditional communities. Many Balinese feel the tourist industry is dominated by Javanese interests and that locals have too little control over its growth.

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