On Tuesday, 19th July this past week, the town of Bangli in central Bali erupted in a riot, thousands of men armed with knives, staves and spears facing off against each other. One man was killed, many injured. A fight in a local high school between teens from different villages exploded into violent confrontation (but I suspect there’d been long-simmering tensions between the villages)
Though this was the largest scale conflict in recent years that I am aware of, this kind of communal fighting is not uncommon. In fact, Bali’s history is chock-a-block with kingdoms at war. Contrary to the tour book myth of Bali being a paradise of gentle peaceful people, the Balinese are proud and rather volatile, and they will tell you that themselves. One Balinese intellectual did just that at a recent international forum in Ubud, and despite what he said, referring to the continual violence that has roiled this island throughout history, one Bali-phile expat refused to listen, saying this guy basically didn’t know his own people. She insisted on the myth.
Why the myth, then? I think in part it’s because Western hot-button issues (such as homosexuality) aren’t hot-button issues for the Balinese. They have their own hot-button issues, such as burial and cremation rights and communal obedience to customary cultural laws of their banjars. (May I say here that I always feel a little bit uncomfortable when I speak of “the Balinese people”—shake a bush in Bali, and out pops an anthropologist, ready to explain to the world some facet of the Balinese and their culture, when in fact the Balinese are just people like anybody else, and capable of explaining themselves. Me, I have this anthropological theory that you can start to see the real values of a people when you put them on scooters or behind the wheels of cars and send them forth on packed roads. And using this theory as a guideline, you start to see that peoples around the world are more fundamentally alike than they are culturally different.)
What does this have to do with surfing? I was thinking about localism, and something struck me. Over the years I’ve seen quite a few instances of aggression in the water, angry words and a few blows, guys sent to the beach, but they were foreigners baring their teeth at other foreigners (some expats are insta-locals and bring that attitude with them), or local Balinese/Indonesians getting upset at visitors not showing respect (with their colonial history, Indonesians are pretty sensitive toward arrogant, condescending attitudes). Only once have I seen Balinese surfers fighting about a surf-spot (which happened to be at Sanur), and even then the instigator was a notorious hot-head, to whom the Bali locals give plenty of seawater room. In the water, Balinese (and their Indonesian comrades) are pretty much a brotherhood. Considering the international zoo the breaks here can become, maybe it’s a hunkering down, a kind of “there’s us-and there’s-them” attitude.