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The Banjar and the caste system

Balinese people live under two bonds.  The first is determined by descent and caste.  The second is determined democratically by his village and Banjar organization. 

bali_banjar.jpg (67869 bytes)
This is a picture of a Bali Banjar Pavilion in Tenganan an ancient Bali Aga village in East Bali

In the center of every Banjar stands a Bale Banjar or Banjar pavilion.  Meetings are held here, village feasts are prepared and the people gather here at night to play cards or just talk.  The communal work is administered from the Bale Banjar.  This work consists of repairing roads, bridges and irrigation canals, the upkeep of the temples, and preparations for cockfights and celebrations.  Many villagers spend more time on the Banjar pavilion than they do at home.  The Balinese love to be with people and with their family and friends for this reason they will do most things in pairs or groups.  The bamboo platforms in the Bale Banjar become long beds at night where villagers often sleep, in the company of their fellow man.  The Banjar is the core of village life.  It runs its own affairs as a community of equals.  The same principle applies to other communal organizations, such as the local dance group or rice-field association.

Balinese life also deals with the existence of a caste system. Most of Bali's population, approximately 75-90%, belong to the Sudra "Wong Kesamen" caste.   It is the remaining population that make up the Tri-Wangsa, the higher cast. Before the Banjar all are equal regardless of caste. Outside the Banjar the Tri-Wangsa are held in great respect and are spoken to in a different more refined language than that used in everyday speech on the roads or in the market. 

Most members of the Tri-Wangsa caste are the descendants of the Javanese conquerors of Bali in the 14th century, or exiles from the spread of Islam in Java in the 15th and 16th centuries.  The Brahmanas (with the title Ida Bagus) are the religious, political, and princely caste.  The Ksatriyasa (or Satriana) are the merchants and make up the second caste. The Waisya (or Gusti), is the administrative and warrior cast.  In the past the members of these castes only married within their own caste, but this convention is no longer strictly adhered to.

Language is complex matter in Bali; basically there are two different Balinese languages.  The common or low language of the sutras is of Austronesian (Polynesian) derivation.  The high language of the Triwangsa is a Javanese court language.  A sutra should use the high language when speaking to a member of a higher caste, and he should be replied to in the low language.  To cover the embarrassment that sometimes emerges, a polite, “middle” language is used. Now a fourth language, the state language Bahasa Indonesia is taught in the schools as a unifier for the modern Indonesian Republic.

Within the philosophy of Balinese religion are the concepts of “Buwana Alit Buwana Agung”, the microcosm and the society are large: the one cannot exist without the other and they are, because of this, the same.  Over the centuries the Balinese have had a strong sense of culture and an orderly and humane society.  They had assimilated two periods of influence from Java.  Now they face the influence of mass tourism and technology.  Hopefully, the village structure and religion that has guided them so far will remain strong and alive.

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