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The Balinese Community System

There are seven things that wrap the Balinese that creates collectively strong oneness among the Balinese community: Hindu Religion, Pura or Temple, Dadia, Banjar, Caste, Subak, and Indonesia Government System.


Indonesian Individuals identify strongly with their religion and the attitude is such that everyone belongs to some religious grouping—Muslim, Hindu or Christian. Hinduism in Indonesia is primarily associated with Bali. They made up more than 93 percent of the Bali population.


Balinese Hindu religious expression is deeply interwoven with art and ritual, and is less closely preoccupied with scripture, law, and belief. Balinese are concerned with a myriad of local and ancestral spirits. They place great emphasis on dramatic and aesthetically satisfying acts of ritual propitiation of these spirits at temple sites scattered throughout villages and in the countryside. Rituals of the life cycle are also important occasions for religious expression and artistic display. Ceremonies at puberty, marriage, and, most notably, cremation at death provide opportunities for Balinese to communicate their ideas about community, status, and the afterlife.

Every Balinese belongs to a temple by virtue of descent, residence, or some mystical revelation of affiliation. Some temples are associated with the family house compound, others are associated with rice fields, and still others with key geographic sites.


Balinese participate enthusiastically in several interlocking corporate groups beyond the immediate family. One of the most important of these is the dadia, or patrilineal descent group. This is a group of people who claim descent through the male line from a common ancestor. The group maintains a temple to that ancestor, a treasury to support rituals associated with it, and certain chosen leaders. The prestige of a dadia depends in part on how widespread and powerful its members are. However, most of these organized groups tend to be localized, because it is easier to maintain local support for its activities and its temple. Balinese prefer to draw spouses from within this group. These corporate kin groups can also be the basis for organizing important economic activities, such as carving cooperatives, gold and silverworking cooperatives, painting studios, and dance troupes.


Traditionally the Banjar is responsible for all things related to inhabited land. Balinese are members of a banjar, or village compound, which overlaps with, but is not identical to, the dadia. The social groups share responsibility for security, economic cooperation in the tourist trade, and the formation of intervillage alliances. The banjar is a council of household heads and is responsible for marriage, divorce, and inheritance transactions. In addition, it is the unit for mobilizing resources and labor for the spectacular cremations for which Bali has become increasingly well known. Each banjar may have individual orchestra, dance, and weaving clubs.

Every area is run by a local Banjar (Balinese term for a place to run social activity and ceremony) with the male heads of each family representing each family and meets twice a month. Women and children do not actively participate in the meetings. They can only indirectly have a say through the male head of the family who attends the meeting.

Since 1979, the banjar has been recognized by the Indonesian government as the lowest administrative structure of the national administration. However, the Banjar has complete autonomy relating to the Banjar administration and the community it serves should still require the agreement of the head of the Banjar, in order to proceed. A development programs are destined to fail if they lack support at the Banjar level. The Banjar, therefore, is the most important link between the government and the Balinese.

The Banjar are adjudicators of adat (traditional law) and determine dates for religious events, organization and funding of important ceremonies, temple maintenance, oversee land sales and on occasion hand out summary punishment to troublemakers.

The banjar is one of the oldest social units in Bali, essentially a type of Hindu parish council: the guys in ceremonial gear you’ll see directing traffic from time to time are representatives of the banjar. Every resident in Bali pays monthly banjar fees, and may well be asked to contribute to the cost of the biggest ceremonies; the banjar police (pecalang) also administer justice (sometimes extremely rough justice) and are the first point of call in the event of burglaries etc.

Banjar Members
All Balinese married couples are automatically Banjar members and subjected to the banjar rights and obligations. If the husband, who is the active member of the family refuses to join or does not participate he would be banned forever and would be considered ‘dead’. He and his family would not be able to participate in any communal activity any longer. Absentees are noted and may be heavily fined.

It is important for a Balinese to be part of the Banjar because certain ceremonies such a marriage or cremation can be really expensive and impossible to organize by yourself.

In the Banjar most activities will be carried out together, working in a system known as gotong royong, where everyone in the village come together to help and participates. All members assist in ensuring that these ceremonies can take place because the Banjar takes on great responsibilities for its members.

The head of the Banjar is elected by the members and approved by the gods through a spiritual medium. Once elected he’s not allowed to decline. It’s considered an honor to be chosen. Besides receiving extra rice or a small percentage of funds, he is equal to any other member of the group. He is not entitled to any privileges or wages.

Caste System

Both feudal and colonial attitudes prevail in Bali – both are foreign to the egalitarian culture such as Australia where too many free-range Aussies arrive in Bali with arrogant attitudes.

Like the Javanese, Balinese society is stratified. Its religion is hierarchically organized, with one small segment of the aristocracy–the Brahman, or priestly, class–being the most prestigious. However, the Balinese caste system involves no occupational specializations or ideas about ritual contaminations between the ranks. It does not prohibit marriage between ranks, but does forbid women to marry beneath their class. The vast majority of Balinese, including many wealthy entrepreneurs and prominent politicians, belong to the Shudra (commoner-servant) class.


Subak is the agricultural society, each of which corresponds to a section of wet-rice paddies. Each subak is not only a congregation of members who are jointly responsible for sacrificing at a temple placed in the center of this group of rice paddies, but also a unit that organizes the flow of water, planting, and harvesting. The Subak is responsible for agricultural land and natural resources, controls the water and determine when a farmer can flood his rice fields.

Since fifty or more societies sometimes tap into a common stream of water for the irrigation of their land, complex coordination of planting and harvesting schedules is required. This complexity arises because each subak has become independent of all the others. Although the government has attempted periodically to take control of the irrigation schedule, these efforts have produced mixed results, leading to a movement in the early 1990s to return the authority for the agricultural schedule to the traditional and highly successful interlocking subak arrangement.

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