Is “Balo” a derogatory term?

Many years, an expatriate running a surf hostel and guide service for visiting surfers put a small advertisement in Tracks that read “Don’t get ripped off by the Balos, get mildly stung by an Aussie who lives here.” The first time I stumbled across that ad, my eyes widened a little. My word, I thought, this chap is rather foolishly playing with fire. (Me being the quiet gentlemanly sort, I avoid more succinct language, such as, “what a f***ing idiot”).

The ad ran for quite a few issues, and sure enough, in due time this entrepreneur was rather violently schooled by few Balinese heavies. Profuse and groveling and genuine apologies followed, for this fellow wasn’t a bad sort, just hadn’t been thinking. This being Bali (and not, say, Hawaii) they sort of forgave him and let him stay, but I’m sure he doesn’t have fond memories of that occasion.

Aussies have a certain way with abbreviated slang and are fond of nicknames. “Balo” is an Aussie way of referring to the Balinese, or things Balinese. Most times it’s used in a neutral (and occasionally affectionate) manner, just as the “Balos” talk about the “bulés” (the word meaning albino, and referring to Westerners).

But over the years, I’ve overhead conversations in which “Balo” was used in an denigrating and racist manner (usually accompanied by another adjective, such as “those f*** Balos”), and those few times have poisoned the term for me personally. I grew up surfing with the first generation of Balinese surfers, and I can’t imagine ever calling Ketut Kasih or Gede Narmada a “Balo.” I’m not going to beat anybody over the head about this, but I just don’t use that term. It doesn’t fit my tongue. (I don’t have any problems with “Indo” as shorthand for the country of Indonesia, but I don’t refer to the “Indos”, which by the way, was the term Indonesians once used for children of mixed Western-Indonesian parentage. Another common term was anak gado-gado, referring to their light brown skin.)

And who is a “Balo” anyway? There are the ethnic Balinese. Then there are locals born and raised in Bali but whose ancestry is from other islands. They don’t call themselves orang Bali, or Balinese. And what about bulé kids who are born and raised here, or kids with one parent a Westerner and one an Indonesian? They aren’t Balinese in the ethnic sense . I suppose “local” is the appropriate word.

Anyway, as one of the surf journalists said in SURFING INDONESIA, a Periplus guide book edited by Leonard Lueras, “In Hawaii, you are an asshole until you prove you’re okay. In Bali, you’re okay until you prove yourself to be an asshole.”

Still true.

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4 Responses to Is “Balo” a derogatory term?

  1. Tom way says:

    Great post – I agree.
    Whereas Balo – as you say – is usually a neutral term, ‘javo’ is usually negative and irks me even more. Noticed how the ‘javos’ are responsible for all the ills is Bali?!

    ‘indo’ is still used widely to mean mixed bule Indonesian and I also avoid it. Some could find it offensive.

    Great blog!!

  2. thomasway says:

    Hi, great post and great blog.
    You’re absolutely right about all the terms that get bandied around.
    ‘Indo’ is still very much used here in Java at least to mean mixed bule-local. While some of Indonesia’s most famous sinetron starts are ‘Indo’ it could well be considered derogatory by others.

    Hey, if ‘Balo’ is a sensitive word, how about ‘Javo’? How many times have you heard tourists talking about how the ‘Javos’ are responsible for all the ills on Bali?!

    Cheers for this great blog – just added to my RSS reader.

  3. Sil says:

    I took my son Lee wilson back to Australia in late December 1998 to finish high school.

    We went from the airport in Brisbane to a motel in Caloundra, the next morning he competed in the local ‘ WINNERS ARE GRINNERS ‘ Comp and came 2nd or 3rd [ I forget ]

    I was there that he was coined ‘ BALO ‘ In our mind’s there was never any impression of disrespect, nor has there been any since.



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