After three months of Covid19 containment efforts, Bali’s economy—of which around half is drawn directly from tourism—is the worst hit in Indonesia. The central bank reported a contraction of 10.98 percent in the province for the second quarter of 2020. Many Balinese say that this period has been more financially difficult than the downturn following the 2002 Bali bombings and the 2017 Mount Agung eruptions—combined.
In Bali, Koster’s proposed reopening received a vast array of reactions, perfectly reflecting the prismatic nature of the island’s population and tourism industry. Relief, concern, hope, skepticism, and apprehension flowed in family and work WhatsApp groups, on social media, then from news outlets from around the globe. From the Tampa Bay Times to the Indian Express, the reopening of “the world famous resort island” seemed to flash like a beacon for the battered global tourism industry. Bali had become the region’s litmus test.
“They could’ve chosen the date better!”
When Balinese discussed the reopening date, it would often be followed by “astungkara”, the local equivalent of inshallah—God willing. Although local news coverage consistently noted the provisional nature of the date, as has been the pattern throughout the pandemic, most foreign media neglected to mention the caveats. Instead, they reported the date as fixed.
Among the fray, some foreigners snickered over the chosen date, as though it had been randomly selected, and that the anniversary of the New York terrorist attacks carries the same weight the world over. “They could’ve chosen the date better!” exclaimed an Australian communications specialist, while moderating a virtual talk about yet another book on Bali by yet another Australian journalist.
While it’s widely known that Bali is majority Hindu, few are aware that Balinese Hindus live by three calendars: Saka, Pawukon, and Gregorian. From weddings and cremations to the reopening of Ngurah Rai’s international terminal, the date for every significant event is selected according to the Saka and Pawukon calendars. This year, Sugihan Bali, a physical and spiritual cleansing ceremony preceding Galungan, the island’s most important series of religious rituals, falls on September 11.
Just as they do in daily life, Balinese Hindu adat, or customs, have played a major role in civil and government responses to the pandemic, so naturally an auspicious date was selected for the slated reopening of international tourism. Churlish remarks like the above epitomise the lens through which many outside the island tend to view Bali, and how most foreign media have framed it for the past 40 years: as a resort island, operating primarily for the purposes of tourists.
A place to throw out their trash
Almost all Indonesian and Balinese language media, alongside local English language titles such as Coconuts Bali and NOW! Bali, consistently refer to the island as Pulau Dewata (Island of the Gods), which was popularised by Indonesian language guide books in the 1950s and ’60s. On the other hand, almost all foreign media refer to it as a resort, holiday, or tourist island, often without mentioning that it’s part of Indonesia, undoubtedly contributing to the misconception among some foreigners that Bali is independent.