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Bali News

The Changing Face of Bali

Editorial: Balinese Development Expert Outlines How Balinese are Becoming Disenfranchised from the Land that was Once their Birthright.

Bali News: Ketut Kartika Inggas, Bali Tourism Development, poverty, land use, Balinese culture.
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An article below was originally published in The Jakarta Post on Tuesday, August 4, 2009. Written by Balinese Ketut Kartika Inggas, it underlines impact the tourism industry is having on the island's culture and traditional life style. Inggas is an alumnae of University of East Anglia, England (MA in Development Studies), currently working in Bangkok:

Getting a Bigger Share of Bali's Tourism Pie

Pan Merta stared emptily at a small corner of the rice field in front of him. His only son, Putu, was running around barefoot chasing away birds trying to eat the rice grains.

He remembers many years back when he was his son's age: He also liked to chase the birds away with the other village boys, only then the rice field was much larger - at least ten times its size now - and all the land belonged to his father. Now, almost all of this huge paddy field of his youth has changed into a five-star resort.

The rest, the little piece of the land that is still used to grow rice, is not his property any more. Pan Merta's childhood was wonderful. After school, he always ran to his family's paddy field and played there until sunset. Little Merta always had enough to eat, wore new clothes for the Galungan holidays, and the whole family were always together.

Now, these are only sweet memories that taste bitter, especially when he realizes he cannot bequeath those great childhood experiences to his young Putu. His son often sleeps with an empty stomach, and had to drop out after elementary school because his father's income as a tenant farmer was not enough to pay for his tuition and books.

Pan Merta is not alone. Unfortunately there are many victims of Bali's tourism development that emphasizes only the competition for more investment without sufficiently preventing its negative impacts.

The beauty of the island, the unique Balinese culture, and its friendly smiling people have made Bali one of the top tourist destinations for decades. The island's tourism industry has brought many investors to Bali to build five-star hotels and international chains.

With the open tap of investment that encourages Balinese to sell their land, now the most desirable spaces in Bali no longer belong to Balinese. Most of the land with the best economic prospects is now owned by non-Balinese.

Maybe at first, Balinese were happy with the instant gratification of receiving a lot of money at once when they sold the land. But now, there is nothing left. The money they got from selling their land disappeared in consumption spending. What is left now is only poverty, as with Pan Merta.

But Pan Merta's story gets worse. The village leader forced his father to sell the land, claiming it had become too dry to be cultivated anymore. His father nervously sold the land cheaply, only to find out later there was a conspiracy among the village leader, the developers and the irrigation officials to cut off the water supply to his land. Not long after that, his family watched in anger the construction of a big resort commenced on what used to be their land.

Of course, there are many Balinese who have better stories than Pan Merta - stories of those who suddenly became rich by selling their land and reinvested the money in profitable businesses.

It is also true that the many years of booming tourism has boosted the Bali economy, created more jobs for the people, and given alternatives to Balinese to just being poor farmers.

The traditional Balinese concept of Tri Hita Karana - the Balinese Hindu norm that keeps harmony and balance between humans and God, humans and humans, and humans and the environment, has frequently been ignored.

Ignoring this concept continues to erode Bali's environment and degrade Balinese social, cultural and religious life. In the name of maximizing return on investment, so much has been sacrificed; environment problem, friction among the community, and the shifting of Balinese way of life from agrarian to a commercial and consumption based society.

Bali cannot deny that its economy depends on tourism. Indeed it is the island's major source of income. Data from Bali trade office recorded that tourism contributed about 60 percent of the region's income. Reports say that Bali, one of Indonesia's 33 provinces, generates between US$2 and 3 billion a year from its tourism industry, which contributes 30 percent to the total national tourism income.

However, it is also very important to ensure that tourism development will not debase Balinese culture, its environment, and its people.

Rapid investment in the tourism industry means nothing if Balinese are swept away and marginalized. For this reason, tourism should also give priority to lifting Balinese out of poverty.

If related stakeholders ignore this premise, sad stories like Pan Merta's will more and more mark Balinese life.

Related Editorial

[Editorial: Bali at the Crossroads]

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