Balinese Rituals & Language: Facing Globalisation (Part 2)

Balinese rituals commodification: harm or strategy?

The next section, we will provide a discussion in what ways commodification generate positive impact, and in what ways it harms the cultures. The thesis of commodification will be employed to discussed what globalisation brings to the traditional Balinese dance and rituals. We specifically relate the modification of Balinese languages to the development of the tourism industry. We also exemplify changes, particularly in Barong Dance and Nyepi Celebration.

In term of cultural commodification, commodification can be meant the process of converting an artistic element, into a commodity that has commercial values (King & Stewart, 1996). Cultural commodification is frequently considered as objectification by “the West” of a cultural other (Cole, 2007). Nowadays, cultural commodification is a part of tourism: it transforms culture into a commodity, packaged, and sold to tourists. In consequence, the culture will lose its authenticity (Cole, 2007). “Cultural commodification changes the meaning of cultural products and human relations, making them eventually meaningless; local culture becomes altered and often destroyed by its treatment as a tourist attraction” (Cohen, 1988 in Mbaiwa, 2011, p.292). This means that the intrinsic value as part of the local cultural identity is lost because of producing and packaging culture to sell to the tourists (Mbaiwa, 2011).

Many scholars argue that commodified cultures can revive local communities in traditional cultural forms, thus both strengthening cultural bonds and provide benefit to local. Steiner and Reisinger (2006) mentioned that tourism development might enhance both the cultural identity and the well-being of members of the local culture. Besculides et al. (2002) stated that cultural commodification could benefits culture in one of two ways; generate tourist’s understanding and tolerance of local culture or enhance identity, pride, cohesion, and support because tourist wants to gaze the cultural performance through the community. Commodification also can benefit locals by increasing a community’s ability to generate income and improve its well-being (Mbaiwa et al. 2009). These advantages potentially raise local people’s enthusiasm for maintaining their regional and ethnic identity. Yet, how does Bali face the cultural commodification of its intangible treasures? Bali is famed for its exotic and colourful dances, and they are frequently used in tourism promotions (Barker et al.,2006). An essential aspect of the debate concerns the ability of dance and rituals to preserve the meaning for the Balinese people considering commercialisation (Barker et al., 2006).

The ceremony, Rituals, and Globalisation

The dominant religion of the Balinese people is Hindu. They have several ceremonies or rituals to connect with their Gods and ancestors. The presence of ceremony or ritual is held as a form of expression and gratitude, harvest celebration, a party of birth, marriage, or death. However, globalisation transformed this sacred value is shifted and become less sacred than it supposed to be. This degradation of value and sacredness is one of the negative impacts of culture commodification (Mbaiwa, 2011). Culture commodification is the transformation of culture into a commodity, which means culture can be bought and sold (MacLeod, 2006). In a tourism context, for example, nowadays, dance performances are essentially a form of entertainment to be traded on the marketplace (Barker, 2006). Commodification also transforms the value of cultural exchange between the host and the guest into the economic exchange and profit orientation (Bunten, 2008).

Dances are one of the cultural ritual and ceremony elements. Diverse arguments have been suggested as to what extent tourism versus other modernisation and globalisation forces have impacted upon dance recitals, and the fact remains that tourism is an agent of change (Barker, 2006). Balinese dances are having spiritual, and sacred value offered to Gods and had several specific conditions that have to be fulfilled by the dancers and the audiences; in which the dances are only performed inside the temple. To prevent the sacredness of Balinese dances and also fulfil the tourism demand, Balinese authorities convened a conference of Balinese academics in 1971 to determine which dances could be performed to the tourist (Howe, 2006). In that conference, the authorities classified Balinese dances into three categories; Wali, Bebali, and Balih-balihan. Wali dances refer to dances that only performed for the ritual inside the inner sanctuary of the temple. Bebali dances are dances which performed outside the temple but still related to a specific ceremony. The last category is Balih-balihan, that indicates dances which are can be carried out for tourist and not associated with ceremony (Picard, 1990 in Howe 2006).

To sum up, Bali dances are categorised into two, religious and performed dance. This categorisation sounds convincing to prevent the authenticity of the Balinese dances. Tourist can consume the performance of Balinese dances still without threat the genuine of the sacral dances. In this respect, the local can gain more economic value from performing the staged dances. The modification of Balinese dances decreases the authenticity of Balinese dances because everyone can perform the Balinese dances, not only the Balinese. Though, this case became a superficial matter for tourist. As long as they can enjoy the Balinese dances with its gamelan in Bali, they still can feel the authenticity because they watch the performance in Bali (Shepherd, 2002).

Barong is probably the most well-known dance among tourists and locals people. It is one of storytelling dance, narrating the fight between the good (the Barong) and the evil (Rangda/the witch). The Barong, which is the main character of the dance, is a mythical masked beast believed to date back to Bali’s pre-Hindu era (Sanger, 1988: 91 in Barker, 2006 p.219). The Barong mask could take on the form of a variety of animals or a mythical beast that requires one or two people to perform.

The Barong Dance lasts for three hours or more, and at the end of the performance, the dancers enter a trance-like state, and this could involve dancers stabbing themselves with daggers (Sanger, 1988 in Barker, 2006, p. 220). To help the dancers snap out of the trance, specific types of food such as live chicken and mangosteen is needed (Barker, 2006). However, the scene where the dancers devour live chicken is considered as an unwished culture to experience for the tourists (Sanger, 2006, in Barker, p.220). Therefore, some modification on the dance based on tourists’ more-likely preferences has been made to satisfy the tourists. In Singapadu, Bali, for example, the Barong dance could be shortened, one-hour tourist version contained a brief, well-controlled, stimulated trance section, minimal dialogue, and added with humour to cope the cultural barriers (Sanger, 1988 in Barker, p.221).

Moreover, there are some modifications in the costumes, probably because of an attempt to suit the taste of the tourist market (Barker, 2006). This example shows that tourism encourages the creation of staged version Barong dance that the authenticity may be questionable, but still it might be more satisfying for the tourists. Tourism market also causes the amount of Barong dance performance increases. Barker (2006) stated that tourist version of Barong dance is the most frequently performed, ranging from once per day to twice a week, while the performance for religious or ritual purposes only performs at most five times a month. As a consequence, due to tourism, performers can earn more money significantly. However, for those who are not benefited economically by this circumstances, they might argue about the impact of tourism on the meaning of the dance, as the dance more often performed that it used to be. McKean (1982) stated that the tourism industry decreases the power of the Barong dance due to its repetitious use in village tourist performances. Some solution proposed such as to have more than one Barong in one village and use different Barong mask when performing for the tourists (Barker, 2006). In other words, the circulation of the fake and materialistic are crucial for concepts’ authentic’, ‘original’ and ‘traditional’ (Shepherd, 2002).

Another example of commodified Balinese culture is Nyepi celebration. Nyepi is one of the sacred days for the Hindu people in Bali. During the Nyepi day, people in Bali are not allowed to do any activities, and it called Catur Brata PeNyepian. It consists of Amati Karya (no working), Amati Lelungan (no travelling), Amati Geni (no light of fire), and Amati Lelanguan (no entertainment) (Narottama, 2016). This extraordinary event encourages some hotels in Bali to sell Nyepi holiday package to the tourist that held annually. Initially, a Nyepi holiday package is just to accommodate travellers; international, domestic and non-Hindu Balinese people who do not celebrate Nyepi. Over time, more and more tourists, who are interested to know the atmosphere of Bali during Nyepi, intend to experience this attraction as their main vacation program (Narottama,2016). In the practical, Nyepi day is utilised by the tour operator to gain more profit by increasing the hotel or the holiday package rate. Logically, because of the rule of the Nyepi, the tourist could not do any activity along the day, yet that is the most attractive activity tourist wants to experience. Nyepi holiday package and the attendance of the tourists in Bali does not change the value and the sacralisation of the Nyepi rituals since the tourists are the ones who are influenced by the ambience and the rituals. The situation allows tourists to control their self and follow the rules during the day. This might be considered as one of the examples of the positive impact of commodification. The tourists demonstrate respect and pride to follow the activity during Nyepi day, and this is worth to establish (Greenwood, 1989 in MacLeod (2006). However, it should be noted that the tour operator should restrict the tourist activity and control the tourist flow to come to Bali on Nyepi day so that the sacredness of the Nyepi day will be sustained.

Cultural Globalisation on Balinese languages

In the following paragraph, we provide the theory of Five Scapes by Appadurai that will be used as a framework to discuss the interrelation between tourism and Balinese languages. After discussing the theoretical framework, we will provide the dynamic changes in Balinese languages after that. We will discuss The Balinese language related to tourism, from literature, website, news website, or small talks with a Balinese friend. Appadurai’s five scapes will function as the guide to find different issues related to changes in The Balinese language. We will use Appadurai’s five scapes as the framework to examine questions of cultural change.

Five Scapes of Appadurai

The Cultural transaction between social groups in a long time ago had been restricted because of distance. The two main reasons for sustained cultural interactions before this century have been warfare and religious conversation (Appadurai, 1990). However, nowadays, with the incredible development of technology, such as transportation, the internet, and infrastructures, cultural interactions between people has been much more straightforward. One of the platforms of this interaction is tourism. Tourism induces the increase of cultural exchanges between social groups. The interactions have encouraged the emergence of cultural globalisation. Cultural globalisation may be specified as an acceleration in the change of cultural symbols among communities around the world, to what extent that it encourages changes in local popular cultures and identities (Nijman, 1999).

Appadurai focused on cultural aspects of globalisation and claimed that the world we live in today is characterised by imagination in social life. Imagination is now central to all forms of agency, and it is itself a social fact, and the key component of the new global order. “The image, the imagined, the imaginary – these are all terms which direct us to something critical and new in the global cultural process: the imagination as a social practice” (Appadurai, 1990, p.5). Moreover, he also addressed the issue of the tension between cultural homogenisation and cultural heterogenisation, which he argues is the central problem of global interactions. The homogenisation arguments are very often closely linked to discussions about economic issues such as Americanization and commoditisation (Appadurai, 1990).

However, rather than homogenisation, he argues that globalisation can cause hybridity, disjuncture, and difference. “The new global cultural economy has to be seen as a complex, overlapping, disjunctive order, which cannot any longer be understood concerning existing centre-periphery models” (Appadurai, 1990, p.6). Appadurai (1990) introduced a simple framework for exploring the disjuncture between politics, culture, and economy called five scapes, which are ethnoscapes, mediascapes, technoscapes, finanscapes, and ideoscapes. Ethnoscapes explains the flow of people, mostly migrants and tourists, as the fundamental aspect of cultural globalisation. People live in an imagined world that encourages them to move, travel, reside in different places to find a better life. Technoscapes denotes the movements of technology at high speed across various previously impermeable boundaries. The current distribution of technologies is driven by the increasingly complex relationships between money flows (same currency), political possibilities, and the availability of workforce, both highly skilled or not. The increasing number of people moving and the development of technology have a strong global relationship with finance. Finanscape deals with the complexities of global capital, as “currency markets, national stock exchanges, and commodity speculations move mega-monies through national turnstiles at blinding speed, with vast absolute implications for small differences in percentage points and time units” (Appadurai, 1990, p.8). Mediascapes reflect the spread of information, which is now available to a growing number of private and public interests throughout the worlds. This disseminated information creates an imagined world in such a way that makes the line between the realistic and the fictional landscapes vague. “…so that, the further away these audiences are from the direct experiences of metropolitan life, the more likely they are to construct imagined worlds which are chimerical, aesthetic, even fantastic objects, particularly if assessed by the criteria of some other perspective, some other imagined world” (Appadurai, 1990, p.9). Ideoscapes is also a sequence of images, but they are often directly political and frequently have to do with ideologies of states and the counter-ideologies of movements explicitly oriented to capturing state power or a piece of it (Appadurai, 1990). These Ideoscapes are composed of elements of the Enlightenment worldview, which consists of a series of ideas, terms, and images, including ‘freedom’, ‘welfare’, ‘rights’, and the master-term ‘democracy’ (Appadurai, 1990).

Balinese Language and Globalisation

Language plays a vital role in Bali’s cultures (Suardiana, 2012). As an indigenous language, Balinese Bali language and culture are like a conjoined twin brother that cannot easily be separated. Balinese use this language in their daily life as informal communication, during religious ritual traditions, worship activities, education, and even in the media. Indigenous people believe that language is one of the ways to express their relationship with the land, the ancestors, and to each other and consider language central to individual and collective cultural identities (Whitney-Squire, 2015).

The utilisation of Balinese Language is incredibly complex and challenging. Balinese has three levels of language, which causes the occurrence of social classification in society. According to the territory, The Balinese language is divided into two dialects, Bali Aga (dialect for mountainous people) and Bali Dataran dialect (general dialect), which has their characteristics. Apart from that, every dialect has a speech level which is related to the clan system which we could identify from Balinese’ first name. The level of speech is called “anggah-ungguh basa” (Suardiana, 2012). The three high-level clans, namely Brahmana, Ksatria, and Weisa, use less polite Balinese language (top to bottom) when communicating with the low-level clans (Shudra, Jabra, and others). In contrast, low-level clans communicate to the high-level clans using polite language – bottom to top (Suardiana, 2012). If someone addresses a person incorrectly, the result can be anything from a faux pas to an insult.

However, the attitude of speaking according to the level clan nowadays has begun to abandon. The egalitarian attitude towards the use of Balinese language has been largely implemented in communities, especially in urban area such as Denpasar. Lineage is no longer being a rigid factor in determining the way people speak. Nevertheless, globalisation provokes the new formation of an elite in term of Balinese language utilisation which is not related to the level of the clan. Instead of respecting people according to the clan, nowadays Balinese are more respecting people according to wealth. To illustrate this, people from the low-level clan do not have to use polite language to talk to the high-level clan, especially when they are more affluent or high office. People no longer see interlocutors’ first name when speaking, when they know the person is more productive or have a higher title, they will use polite language. Otherwise, they will use a common language or less-polite language.

Apart from the change in the system of Balinese language use, nowadays, there is a big issue about the number of Balinese language users. Regarding the surprising number of tourist visiting Bali, Bali societies have concerned about the increasing number of tourist causing the declining number of Balinese language utilisation. Balinese culture & language expert, Prof. Dr I Gusti Ngurah Bagus, for example, firmly predicted that in 2020, Balinese would be no longer used by the communities (Surdiana, 2012). According to Balinese news website Bali Post (2015), the role of Balinese language as lingua franca have been replaced by the Indonesian language and even by other foreign languages such as English. It is also stated in Bali Post that the remaining Balinese native speakers are only one age group (2015).

There are some argumentations about the cause of the decrease of Balinese language users. Appadurai (1990) argued that social interactions between social groups influence societal cultures, including language exertion. During the last decades, there was an increasing number of people visiting Bali, in particular in the form of mass tourism. The data showed that 365.000 Australian tourists were visiting Bali from June 2014 until June 2015. The number was higher than domestic tourists, who were only 27.000 tourists (Kompas, 2015). Although it needs more research, the development of the tourism industry in Bali might influence the mindset of youth people about the preferred language. The fact that the number of international tourists is higher than domestic tourists may build the perception about the importance of foreign language instead of the national language or even local language. To be able to communicate with the tourists, they need to speak either in international language or national language. As a consequence, the young generation does not feel that they need the local language.

The development of the tourism industry has also encouraged people from different cities to migrate due to job opportunities. This urges locals to speak in the same language. As not all people can talk The Balinese language, they tend to talk either in Indonesian language or English (Tamatea, 2011). Moreover, in a family circle, The Balinese language is not used anymore, since the parents want to prepare their kids to be able to compete in the globalised worlds use national speech or international language (Tamatea, 2011).

The development of technology has also impacted The Balinese language as well as the result of mass media. The spread of television, the internet, digital advertising, are examples of technologies that may affect The Balinese language. For Balinese people, watching TV is considered as an everyday leisure activity. From young children to the elderly, they will spend much time to watch TV. It has become the most essential domestic entertainment for Balinese (Hobart, 2002). For 27 years, Indonesian had had only 1 TV channel, from 1962 until 1989 which was owned by the government. Television at that time was becoming a tool to contribute to the unity of the nation (Hobart, 2002). The Indonesian language is perceived as one of the unifiers by the second president of Indonesia, Soeharto. Even though not many Balinese people had a television at the moment, only rich ones, the use of Indonesian language started growing in Bali. Currently, the Indonesian language is considered as dignified language compare to the local language. The perception of Balinese language as countrified language is nowadays enhancing among young people. A lot of soap opera provided nationally on television telling about the life of Jakarta, metropolitan city, constructs the meaning of Indonesian language. The figures in the soap opera are usually young perky men or girls, who have everything that it takes to be cool persons, and speak the Indonesian language. Therefore, many Hollander et al. perceived that television is the most responsible for the significant transformation in Indonesia (2007), as well as the preferred language for the young generation.

As stated before, most of the tourists in Bali are coming from Australian (BSN, 2016). During the summer holiday, they are more likely to spend their time in Bali rather than in Australia, not only because Bali is very close to Australia, but also the living cost in Bali is away much cheaper than in Australia. According to Appadurai, besides the development of technology, the flow of money also plays a role in cultural globalisation (1990). This is in line with Bali cases, with 2000 Australian Dollars, Australian tourists could live in Bali in luxuriously, and compare to the Perth, for example, with that money, they could not do leisure that much (Kompas, 2015).

The fact that living cost in Bali is considered as more reasonable might encourage international tourists, more specifically Australian tourists, to stay longer in Bali. Many tourists make friends with local, and that causes the exchange of cultures, including language. Many international tourists are interested in learning The Balinese language, as well as the locals, are interested in learning foreign languages. This interaction provokes the establishment of foundations which offers the language exchange program, such as Cinta Bahasa Foundations. It is ironic when foreigners start to love The Balinese language, while Balinese people begin to forget it.

From the explanation above, it seems that globalisation and tourism gradually transform the utilisation of Balinese language, in term of the number of users, the system, and even who use it. However, the efforts to preserve the culture grows in all communities. Primarily since the law of Governance Area No. 22 of 1999 and the rule of Government Fiscal Balance Central and Regional No. 25 of 1999 have been issued, Balinese language was the primary concern among the communities and mass media since then (Suardina, 2012). In 2001, TVRI (National TV) for Denpasar had routinely started a program in The Balinese language called Gatra Bali. Subsequently, in 2002 Bali TV is established as the first private TV station in Bali which actively provide the program in The Balinese language, which is called “Orti Bali.” Nowadays, Bali has three TV stations which provide some programs in The Balinese language. Not only TV but also another type of mass media has started to use Balinese languages such as local radio and local newspaper. Another effort to preserve The Balinese language is the Congress of Balinese language, which is already held seven times since 1974, and instigation about “1 hotel, 1 Balinese language expert”.


The development of the tourism industry in Bali continuously brings some cultural changes. Balinese rituals and language are examples of indigenous cultures that are affected by the globalisation and the development of the tourism industry.

Globalisation becomes a gate for the culture commodification in Bali. Balinese people and tour operators commodified their rituals and ceremonies to attract more tourist. This means the culture is commercialised for economic purposes. Indeed, a commodification of Balinese culture may offer many advantages in term of financial, but it also comes with some disadvantages. Even though Local can get economic benefit by performing the cultural art, and another culture utilisation, the new issue appears: how authentic is the culture if it is for sale?  This market ideology extinct the life value of Balinese people of mebayah (volunteer act) into ngayah (paid act) and become Balinese fundamental life value (Brata, no year). The local tend to “sell” every service pertinent to a culture that the local has. The commodification of rituals and ceremonies could decrease the sacredness of the ceremonies and rituals itself. To protect the sacredness of the culture and traditions, the imitation of the culture (dances &songs) needs to create a stage culture to satisfy the tourism industry.

Apart from the authenticity issue, cultural commodification can benefit culture in generating tourist’s tolerance towards local cultures, and it also can enhance the pride of Balinese people about their cultures. Take as an example, Nyepi holiday package, in which the tourist can learn the actual ritual of Nyepi day and respect any rules in that day.  It can also bring tourists to the next level of experiencing Balinese culture and feel more the spiritual atmosphere in Bali.

Moreover, globalisation has also transformed the Balinese language in term of many aspects such as, the number of users, the system, and even who use it. On the other side, the efforts to preserve the language has also grown among the communities. Human interactions induced by globalisation have been encouraged by the emergence of cultural globalisation. Appadurai’s scapes, especially ethnoscape, technoscape, and finanscape, are quite useful to explore the disjuncture between politics, culture, and economy-related to The Balinese language.  The flows of people which leads to the interactions by different ethnics cause the attitude towards speaking The Balinese language according to the level clan nowadays has begun to abandon. Balinese people start to apply egalitarian philosophy when they speak The Balinese language, especially in urban area such as Denpasar.

Moreover, nowadays the young generation does not feel they need to speak The Balinese language, like the fact that the number of international tourists is higher than domestic tourists that build the perception about the importance of foreign language instead of national language or even local language. In term of technoscapes and mediascape, the preferred language for the young generation has also been changing due to the use of Indonesian language in the most of the television channels, and in fact, television is the most responsible for the significant transformation in Indonesia (Hollander et al., 2007). Finanscape might not have a direct relationship with the use of local language. Still, the fact that living cost in Bali is much more affordable than in tourists’ country, for example, Australia, triggers the tourists to spend a long day in Bali, this will create some friendship among locals and tourists, that could cause exchange of cultures happens, particularly language. The new civilisations are made, where foreigners start to love The Balinese language, and Balinese people start to forget it. Apart from the cultural changes in The Balinese language, the efforts to preserve the culture grows in all communities.


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