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Bali Chronicles Paperback – 10 Mar 2012
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About the Author
Willard A. Hanna graduated from the Wooster College in 1932. He maintained a lifelong interest in Asia, first as a teacher in China and later with the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Foreign Service and the American Universities Field Staff. Over the course of his career, he prepared hundreds of field reports on Southeast Asian affairs and authored a dozen books on Asia.
Tim Hannigan's first book "Murder in the Hindu Kush" was shortlisted for the Boardman-Tasker Prize. His second book "Raffles and the British Invasion of Java" won the 2013 John Brooks Award. His features and travel articles appear regularly in newspapers and magazines in Indonesia and beyond. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
The work starts with the situation in Bali pre-1800. It is a single chapter but is nice to read the background. The histories of the rajadoms is not hugely detailed.but it sets out the basic starting point for Bali prior to interaction with Europeans.
It is really from the 1800s and early 19800s that most of this history is presented. The early encounters are about the discovering of Bali and the initial interactions between in particular the Dutch and seemingly naive but restive locals. Amusing to read from the very start of European engagement with Bali that there were people so enthused with what they discovered on the island that they chose to stay rather than return to Europe.
The bulk of the text covers the encroaching Dutch and their trade and wars with Balinese rajadoms. The Dutch had already taken hold of much of Java before their Balinese adventures expanded. Clearly Bali was a lower priority for a long time but eventually the Dutch held sway over the entire island. Hanna's work presents the various Dutch officials who made their fortunes and fame on Bali including those who fought with the locals.
The Dutch conquest of Bali is presented in the slow, gradual accumulation it clearly was. The infighting between rajadoms following the collapse of the Dewa Agung's overriding authority shows the almost procession-like approach the Dutch took. The details of early treatise between the Dutch and various Rajas are laid out clearly with the reactions from both sides depicted including oft disappointed overseers in the Netherlands and somewhat bemused locals.
Issues such as salvage of wrecks seems to have been key to the relationship between the Dutch and the Balinese. The locals belief in their rights to salvage run up against the Dutch system of more ordered governance. The alien concept of sovereignty seems to be a source of much confusion between the would-be colonists and those they would come to dominate. The changing times in Europe play out to some extent in the Dutch rule. In particular the abolition of slavery which was a common feature in Bali, especially of debtors, eats into a traditional cultural expression. The more modern European values triumph over a system that had existed for centuries.
War is a common theme throughout the book. The Dutch lead various incursions into Bali. Not all of them successful. The Balinese were on occasion able to repel the invaders but in the long run the colonists were too much for the locals to resist. The rajadoms fall in succession and the horrific puputan seems to have taken place dozens of times.
The role of Lombok crops up on occasion. It is clearly a much less important place but Balinese leadership of its neighbouring island despite the local Sasak population's Muslim faith is given a short assessment.
There are some truly touching anecdotes in Brief History. Chief among them is a chapter dedicated to the biography of Danish trader Mads Lange. The tale of a Danish trader so far from home is fascinating. It is a great insight into what it takes to succeed in the cutthroat world of the 19th century among an alien culture. Mads Lange clearly made his mark during the time he lived on Bali and it is well-worth his chapter.
Hanna's writing continues beyond the Dutch period into the mid 20th century. He has disappointingly little to say about the Japanese occupation. It is a real omission to write a story about Bali and to just gloss over the period when the Dutch were ousted and the Japanese Empire took ownership. Equally there is not a huge amount about the Balinese role in the independence movement - perhaps because in reality Bali played very little role in Indonesia's ultimate independence from the Netherlands.
There is though fascinating insight into the people who began to form some of the Western cultural interaction with Bali from the 1930s. The initial development of a nascent tourist population and the artists who forged what would become the dominant feature of Bali are great to read about.
Hanna has something to say about the Sukarno period but nothing at all about Suharto. He is witheringly critical of Sukarno with attack on the man's character as well as his policies. For some reason Hanna skips over the bloodletting of 1965-66 and his tome ends shortly afterwards.
Tim Hannigan takes up the mantle for the period after 1965. He begins by arraying his oppositionist approach and trying to claim Sukarno was not as bad as Hanna described. Hannigan then undermines his own argument by laying out the devastating effects of Sukarno's incompetence as a leader. The period under Suharto is relative calm imposed by a central authority and sees the development of Bali thanks to tourism.
Hannigan repeatedly describes Bali as a violent place - his oppositional stance against the mantra of Bali being a peaceful idyll. Hannigan's reminder of the violence carries through to the modern era and the terrorist attacks in 2002 and 2005.
Hannigan's key addition to the tale though is his history of tourism development. There are problems of course with what has happened on Bali but the huge boon to the economy is noted and the clear benefit to local people who have been able to rise up to wealth and in some cases power that would never have been afforded to them in centuries past.
The combination of Hanna and Hannigan have come up with a fascinating history well worth reading. It is though the history of the Europeans (including modern Australians) in Bali rather than truly being a history of the Balinese. It is also quite hard work to keep track of the various Balinese leaders as they seem to have adopted remarkably similar names.
As this is not truly the tale of the Balinese themselves it is not the complete picture but it is an accessible and fascinating work in its own right.
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That said, the history from 1800 up until modern times is complex enough for any reader to follow. This is the real core of the book, the writer has shown how Bali was not a single kingdom and how the kingdoms in Bali were not isolated from the wider region around them. At times Bali ruled parts of Java and also Lombok.
Much of the history is told through the accounts of the foreign traders and officials. Bali was not seen as a great prize by the Dutch after they had conquered Java but they did not want the Balinese destabilising the kingdoms on Java. Between 1846 and 1908 the Dutch launched seven military expeditions to control the Balinese. These expeditions were not always successful. Indeed, in some of them, the Dutch were repulsed with significant casualties. Bali was no easy target.
The author does show his “frustration” with the Balinese and indeed uses some adjectives that imply a negative view. Through the history of Balinese-European contact, the Balinese would sign treaties with foreigners, the kings would renege and sign them again. Without a doubt, most western readers would see this as duplicitous. However, in a culture where agreements between kingdoms were sealed by marriages or exchanges of hostages, what worth did an unintelligible foreign scrawling on paper have. Even though the king may have agreed to what was explained to him; he was near enough to divine, ergo any change of heart he had was permissible because he could do no wrong. If he had done wrong then he would be punished by the gods not by humans.
I found the sections that dealt with the Puputans (ritual mass suicide), as there was more than one, to be very interesting. How eery it must have been to be a Dutch trooper standing outside one of the royal palaces expecting a vigorous counter-attack but instead seeing a steady procession of white garbed monarchy and courtiers who then started killing themselves as well as assisting others. While some did charge into the gun barrels of the Dutch to be killed, the majority took their own lives without the assistance of the Dutch. This event is commemorated in several statues in Bali. While the statues seem to suggest a glorious attack, in reality most participants took their own lives. Some later paintings try to show a glorious defiance but a contemporary photo (found on the web) of the result shows that it was probably just starkly horrific to an extent that would not have been comprehensible to the Europeans; beyond reinforcing their negative attitude of the royal families.
There are a number of black and white pictures as well as photos scattered throughout the book. The early photos are often most intriguing showing large Dutch beside small Balinese, the latter not really appearing to comprehend what is happening. There is a particularly striking photo of two female slaves that appears to have been taken in a photographic studio. These two women look out over the years, only one has a name noted, and she was from Papua. Beyond the visual impact, this photo reminds us that Bali was part the trade networks that covered what is now the Indonesian archipelago. It also highlights the mentions in the text that Bali had numerous slaves who are now lost to history but are symbolised in this photo. Why we may recoil at the notion of slavery, especially on the paradise island, I think that knowing this occurred helps to create a fuller picture of Bali.
This book does an excellent job of making a more three dimensional Bali, with a long history spring from its pages. While the views may be outdated in a book originally republished in 1976, and re-released in 2004, it will allow the reader to get behind the glossy tourist view of Bali. It will allow readers to understand that Bali was and is so much more than the cheap Bali sold to tourists, often by people who are actually from East Java or Madura.
If you want to understand how Bali got to where it is today, then I can recommend this book. The 2004 version comes with no footnotes or an index but there is a bibliography.
The amazing island of Bali has had an equally amazing history. This book goes through its history with a strong emphasis on the Dutch influence. There is a strange repetitiveness in the book, almost as if the chapters were written independently, but each chapter is so full of interesting tidbits that the repetition is easy to ignore. The fundamental point made in the book is that Bali is an island stuck until recently in 1600, with all the grandeur, mannerisms, and culture of that time. Why did Bali remain the same for so long? The author points to many of the activities of the Dutch, for good and for bad (and some of it unbelievably bad).
I read the book while on Bali, and during the flight home, and could not put it down. This is not a book about art or culture but rather on how historical decisions affected an island and its peoples.
It was interesting to note that the author was horrified about the possibility of there being 300,000 tourists per year on the island, while the current number is about 10 times that. And his comments about "hippies" on the island provide unintended humor, and clearly date the book.
Overall, well worth the read to get a better feeling of how Bali got to where it is, or was in the 1970s.