Bali Indonesia (A Short History)

Bali - A Snapshot

Bali is an island and province of Indonesia, with a population of 4,225 million as at January 2014 including an estimated 30,000 expatriates who call the island home. The province takes in a number of neighboring islands including Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Penida and Nusa Ceningan. Bali is located at the westernmost end of the Lesser Sunda Islands, between Java which is in the West and Lombok in the East.

The capital of Bali is Denpasar which is situated on the southern part of the island. The history of Bali began during the Palaeolithic period of human history which covers around 95% of human prehistory, approximately 2.6 million years ago. Much like most of the islands which form the Indonesian archipelago, the island was created as a result of the tectonic subduction of the Indo-Australian plate which lies beneath the Eurasian plate.


Unlike most of the Muslim-majority of Indonesia, approximately 83.5% of Bali’s population identify with the Hindu religion, which was formed as a result of historic local beliefs combined with the Hindu influences from nearby Southeast Asian and South Asian countries. Minority religions include Christianity, Buddhism and Islam.

Immigrants from neighboring island areas of Indonesia have, over the last decade impacted the demographic makeup in Bali, as many have been drawn by the lure of the tourism industry. Many seek to benefit through the production and sales of local handicrafts which make Bali one of more affluent islands in the region.


Bali was originally inhabited around 2000 BC by Austronesian people who migrated from the Oceania and Southeast Asian regions. Both linguistically and culturally, Balinese are closely related to peoples from the Indonesian archipelago, including Malaysia, the Philippines and Oceania. The culture was strongly influenced by the Indian, Chinese and Hindu cultures beginning around the 1st century AD.

The first known contact with Europeans was said to have occurred in 1512 when a Portuguese expedition rounded its northern shores. Many years later in the year 1597 Dutch explorer Cornelis de Houtman arrived in Bali with the Dutch East India Company establishing a base in 1602. Many years later from the 1840’s and onwards, struggles broke out between the Dutch and local peoples, who fought for control of the land.

Contact with Europeans is first recorded to have occurred by Marco Polo and other traders and travelers passing through the region. In 1512 Bali was mapped in the chart of Francisco Rodrigues as part of a Portuguese expedition lead by Antonio Abreu and Francisco Serrao.

In the year 1585 a ship was sent to establish a trading port and fort, however the ship ran aground a broke up in the crushing waves on the reef. Only five survivors made it shore, these men then went into service of the local King of Gelgel, known as the Dalem (Raja), where they were provided with wives and homes in which to live.

During the period between the 17th and 18th centuries, the Dutch East India Trading Company left much of the trading opportunities to private traders as their primary interests were opium and the slave trade. Many conflicts erupted during this period between the Dutch and Balinese resulting in the Bali being split into nine minor kingdoms, which went on to fight a number of wars for territorial rights.


For a brief period of time between 1806 – 1811 the Netherlands become a province of France and as a consequence, Bali fell under the rule of Napoleon. During the WWII, Bali was occupied by the Japanese and in 1946 the Dutch constituted Bali as part the newly declared State of East Indonesia in 1946.

A Republic Is Born

During World War II Bali was occupied by Imperial Japan, however following Japan’s surrender in the Pacific in 1945 the Dutch returned to Indonesia, including Bali to reinstate the colonial administration. Resistance by the local Balinese rebels during the Battle of Marga on November 20th 1946 saw the entire Balinese battalion wiped out during a daring suicide attack against the heavily armed Dutch. It wasn’t until December 29th, 1949 the Netherlands acknowledged Indonesian independence.

In 1949, under pressure from global leaders the UN Security Council ordered the Dutch to cease the ongoing conflicts with the Balinese, which had resulted in the loss of many lives. As a consequence Dutch armed forces withdrew and by 1950, the Republic of Indonesia was formed.

The first governor of Bali was Anak Agung Bagus Suteja, appointed by the then President of Indonesia in 1958, when Bali became a province.

Whilst Bali remains part of Indonesia, there is much that is different to the rest of the country including its history, culture and religion. Bali remains an island afforded a great amount of autonomy from the rest of Indonesia, the island has a strong Hindu/Buddhist base whilst other regions of the country are dominated by Islam.

Administrative Divisions

Bali province is divided into eight separate regencies being evaluated at the same administration level as a city, with each having their own local government and legislative body. The only discerning differences between the two is in relation to the demography, size and economy.

Regencies are considered rural and cover a larger area than a city. A city is considered to be such, as it undertakes non-agricultural economic activities. Each province is divided into eight regencies (kabupaten) and one city (kota). These are:

Bali-Administrative-Divisions Source/Credit:


Lying 3.2 km (2 miles) east of Java, Bali sits around 8 degrees south of the equator. Bali is separated from Java by the Bali Strait. East to West, the island is approximately 153 km (95 miles) wide and spans roughly 112 km (69 miles) north to south.

The total area administratively speaking is 5,577 km2 excluding the District of Nusa Penida. The population density is around 750 persons per square kilometer. The highest peak on Bali island is Mount Agung, this strato-volcano towers overhead as the highest point on the island, with an elevation of 3,031 metres (9,944 feet). The mountain, known to the locals as ‘mother mountain’ is a heavy influencer on the climactic conditions of the region.


As clouds approach from the west the mountain takes on their water, leaving the west of the island lush and green, whilst areas to the east are dry. Bali is surrounded by coral reefs, with beaches located on the southern side of the island having white sand and those in the north and west having black sand. There are no major waterways on the island, with the Ho River only navigated by small boats. The capital Denpasar is situated near the southern coast, with the second largest city and the old colonial capital Singaraja located on the north coast.

Sandra Hawkins

Subscribe to

Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox.

or subscribe via RSS with Feedly!