Local Lives on Bali’s Coastlines
A lot is happening on Bali’s coastlines. From salt and seaweed farmings to ceremonies, the beaches of Bali is always buzzing with life.
Passing the bumpy beachside roads of Nusa Lembongan on the way to the sister island of Nusa Ceningan, you can spot a cove flooded by lots of canoes. The canoes are an attraction in themselves, especially for tourists’ cameras; but what lays underneath them is a story of how the coastal residents of the island support their humble lifestyle.
Looking out to the sea, you can see small groups of men and women bent over, tending their lines of seaweed. These farmers have hitherto eked out a living earning a few dollars a month selling fish and fruits. Farming seaweed is not going to help them get rich, but it may help ease them out of poverty. It isn’t a mega-agricultural site, but the seaweed farmers of Lembongan take the business very seriously, and are even going about it in an environmentally-friendly way!
All along the beach seaweed farmers come and go, bringing out bags of seedlings or loading the latest harvest into their boats. The farm consists of a few simple buildings the farmers use for resting and for preparing the seedlings. The remaining land is used for drying the seaweed, which, when dried, is sold to the local suppliers for less than five dollars per kilogram! The dried seaweed will then be shipped to Bali’s Denpasar and other areas in neighbouring Java to later be used as an ingredient for food and beverages as well as cosmetic products.
The seaweed is easily visible as the water is normally clear; and this gives the farm extra appeal in the view of visitors. Fortunately, the farmers don’t feel disturbed by the presence of visitors.
In Gianyar, sea turtles are the most loyal visitors to area’s black-sand Saba beach, returning year after year for nesting season. But sadly the eggs and the hatchlings fall victim to natural predators such as stray dogs. Of course, the stray dogs play their role in the natural food chain; however, the threats of predation increase when human development reaches the nesting beach, especially with people leaving trash near the shore.
To help protect the endangered species, a group of local Saba fishermen initiated Saba Asri, a very simple self-funded sea turtle conservation centre. These fishermen don’t really think too much about their time and energy spent on this project, or even getting paid for it. Their dream for a better future and their dedication and love for these beautiful creatures are what keeps them going. Of course you can always help by giving donations through the centre’s “Turtle Release” program, or by purchasing the Saba Asri merchandises such as turtle shopping bag – it’s very eco-friendly (reusable) and cute! For more info visit www.sabaasri.com.
Not too far from Saba beach, on the way to Goa Lawah Temple, local seasalt farmers are working hard to make a living. The farming site is far from posh but very interesting, for we get to see how salt is actually extracted and collected. The small salt farm consists of flat terrain by the beach, where seawater, after being collected from the ocean, is left to evaporate leaving salt crystals behind, which are then collected in a series of wooden containers.
To collect the seawater, the workers there carry two baskets that are connected by a long strip of bamboo across their shoulders. They will then spray the seawater onto the flat terrain, making it muddy. Just to see it shimmer in the sunlight is quite lovely, but aside from this, it is also fascinating to watch how the salt is harvested.
You can find a small hut in the area, used by the workers to store the salt before being packed and sent to suppliers. Visitors to the salt farm can also purchase a bag of the sea salt for less than USD 5 – that should be enough for months of home supply.
Moving towards Candidasa and further up to the eastern tip of Bali, you’ll come to pass local ladies selling fish on their simple booths by the roadside. Selling the freshest catch of the day, these ladies live in the area’s fishing villages down the coast and up along Karangasem’s scrubby hillsides.
Karangasem consists of a series of small beach-side fishing villages, each with it’s own name and identity. These communities are separated by hills stretching along the coast and connected by a single coastal road that winds up over one headland, down into a small beach-fringed cove, up over the next headland, and down into the next village. Here the coastlines on the villages are decorated by colorful jukung, Balinese traditional fishing boats. During the ‘fishing high season’, which normally takes place from October to December, a Karangasem fisherman can catch up to 300 fish per day. During the slow months, the catch ranges from as low as 2 to 30 each day.
Anyway, the sea indeed plays an important role in the life of the Balinese people. In addition to being a provider for the people living in coastal areas, the sea as a water source is one of the most important elements for the Balinese Hindu, a religion of water.
The Balinese believe that all humans are born with positive traits or chitta, and negative traits or klesa. The negative traits consists of five elements, namely awidia or stupidity, asmita or egoism and arrogance, raga or desire, dwesa or anger and revenge, and abhiniwesa or fear. And when these five negative elements begin to dominate, the Balinese people will make their way to any water source, often the beach or water temples, to perform a cleansing ritual known as Melukat. On the beach called Purnama (meaning full moon) in Gianyar, located along Ida Bagus Mantra Bypass Road, local Balinese residents will head to the beach to perform Melukat during the full moon. Come and observe the ritual, and you might just be the only visitor there.
In addition to cleansing one’s body and soul, the beach is also where the Balinese Hindus come to spiritually cleanse their religious treasures and paraphernalia through Melasti ceremony. Held prior to the silent day of Nyepi, Melasti will see those who are living in the hilly areas of Bali to come down to the island’s shores. Big ceremonies or small rituals will always take place on the beaches of Bali, and offerings are always laid on the beaches especially the black-sand ones, which according to the Balinese have a very strong association with spiritual activities.
Then again, being in a place surrounded by the sea, the Balinese believe that evil spirits can attack people from any direction – they flow in as swiftly on the wind then departed just as quickly, before any prayers can diminish their evil powers. There is a reason why the Pura Kahyangan Jagat, the seven most important temples in Bali (with Tanah Lot and Uluwatu being the two out seven) are all located by the sea.