Staying Authentic Through Empowerment – By Amali Karawita

Can Bali Stay Authentic in the Midst of Modernisation? | Written By, Life on the Island |

In the era of globalisation and modernisation, it has become increasingly difficult for places like Bali to preserve its authenticity especially in the wake of mass tourism.

Bali has become the epitome of paradise : white sand beaches still untouched, smiling and friendly people, magnificent Hindu temples and tropical landscapes straight out from an explorer’s book, an idyllic image which has been relayed by the media and overshared in social media
Submission by Amali Kartika Karawita

Bali has become the epitome of paradise : white sand beaches still untouched, smiling and friendly people, magnificent Hindu temples and tropical landscapes straight out from an explorer’s book, an idyllic image which has been relayed by the media and overshared in social media.

It is without a doubt that the tourism industry has formed and continues to be influenced by the needs and wants of foreign tourists coming to the island. As a result, we tend to observe the westernisation of a place. Big chains are taking over local shops and western restaurants are replacing local warungs. In Ubud, it is not uncommon to see luxurious villas rise up right in the middle of rice fields.  A farmer could have never imagined that one day his rice fields would become a hot commodity for the hospitality industry. Everyone wants the “Bali experience”, but how many of us are willing to sacrifice our comfort in the name of pure authenticity and not just the illusion of it?

Globalisation is not a new phenomenon. It is a trend that has been going on for the past centuries and was motivated at its beginning by trade. The result is the ever increasing interdependency in spheres such as the economy, politics and social relations.  Traditions and cultures are often influenced by these changes.  Of course, Bali is not what it used to be three hundred years ago before colonisation and even before the arrival of Hinduism and Buddhism. There is a need to define the meaning of authenticity in the Balinese context today. What makes Bali so different from other Indonesian provinces? For many, the answer would be its culture. When you step foot on the island, you are submerged by its uniqueness and undeniable beauty. 

Staying authentic means keeping Balinese culture alive by empowering and encouraging local populations, not only in touristy areas, to practice their ancestral arts and crafts as well as to celebrate cultural events. It is offering viable alternatives for people to make a living without having to move to urban areas for better economic opportunities. It is to protect local populations against big corporations threatening their livelihood. It also means involving and sparking the interest of younger generations in preserving their culture by teaching the history of the island, the local dialect as well as Balinese arts and music. There is a need to positively change this image that traditions and culture are vestiges of the past which should be forgotten in order to move towards modernity. 

As visiting tourists, we need to become more responsible regarding our choices. Our choices impact the lives of many depending on tourism as a source of income. Supporting local businesses will give a positive incentive for locals instead of enabling big international companies to set up their monopoly on the tourism industry and erase what makes a destination unique. Respect and the willingness to accept and adapt to a place are major components helping indirectly to keep alive the essence of a place. Travelling is about discovering places and its people. It might sometimes get uncomfortable but the experience is always worth it. 

The biggest challenge will remain for the Government to find the right equilibrium between the preservation of culture and its commercialisation for economic gains. Bali like other places in Indonesia relies on tourism for its development. Better policy based on sustainable tourism need to be formulated to help preserving cultural identity and heritage against deterioration and destruction.

There are no other places like Bali in the world. If its core essence fades away, it will be impossible to go back and revive it. So while we still have time, why not begin now?   

Submission by Amali Kartika Karawita

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