Located in the centre of Indonesia, Bali is a small hotpot of cultures. Though the population is predominantly Hindu, thanks to years of experience in tourism, the Balinese are exposed to many cultures. Remarkably, the Balinese accept and often assimilate foreign cultures, while maintaining their own unique cultural identity.
In Indonesia, Bali may be one of the anomalous islands in terms of culture. Despite Indonesia having a Muslim majority, Bali remains one of the islands in Indonesia that boast a Hindu majority. Also, Bali is one of the most liberal places in Indonesia, where people can drink alcohol and eat pork, unlike in other places in Indonesia. Add some tourism to that equation, and you have a recipe for a multicultural hotpot of cultures! Every year, Bali sees significant growth in foreign tourist visits. In 2014 alone, according to the Central Statistics Agency, almost 3.7 million foreign tourists visited Bali; a 14 percent increase from the previous year. Thanks to these tourists, the Balinese are no strangers to multicultural exchange!
But Bali’s affinity for multiculturalism goes beyond mere tourists. Historically, Bali has been exposed to many cultures, especially from merchants from India, China, and the Arab world. These merchants would trade with local Balinese kingdoms, offering porcelain, quality textiles, and other items. It is also believed that Hinduism in Bali was carried by Indian priests who wanted to bring Hinduism into Southeast Asia. Balinese royalty would also interact with Chinese royalty and engage in political marriages to consolidate trade partnerships. Later on, Muslims fleeing turmoil in feudal Java sought refuge in Bali. These Muslims, which would later become the original Balinese Muslims (or nyame Selam in Balinese dialect), were kept safe by Balinese kingdoms and integrated into Balinese society.
More contemporary forms of Balinese multiculturalism are evident in modern social life. In several parts of Bali, churches are designed in Balinese architecture. They are even decorated with penjor on special occasions, which is thought to be an exclusively Hindu attribute. Likewise, the Balinese celebrate Christmas with Christmas attributes, despite not adhering to the Christian faith. There are contemporary renditions of Christmas carols played with gamelan, and Christmas decorations can be found across the island. Speaking of gamelan, there’s also gamelan and dance groups consisting of a mixture of Balinese, Caucasians, and Japanese. Such tolerance for multiculturalism can also be found during major holidays. In 2012, the Day of Silence (Nyepi) coincided with the Muslim Friday prayers. The two parties reached a compromise and allowed Muslims to walk to mosques with the aid of village security (pecalang), but they were not allowed to utilize loudspeakers or motor vehicles.
Those are just glimpses of the multicultural practices that happen in Bali. There are far more out there, from mixed marriages to interfaith collaboration. Since multiculturalism has long been a signature of Balinese society, it is often lauded as a powerful drive for creating a more inclusive environment for everyone on the beautiful island.