An article in the leading French-language newspaper Le Monde examines how mass tourism is destroying Bali and its culture.
Written by correspondent Bruno Philip, the incisive article reviews before a large French readership a litany of all-too-familiar problems that the rapid development of Bali brings to threatening the island’s future and its endemic culture.
In the course of preparing his article, Bruno spoke to both the Balinese and expatriates living on Bali who confirmed, “Bali is not what it used to be.”
And while change brought by progress and modernity are inevitable, it is the recent shift from cultural to mass tourism that is wreaking the most havoc on what was once an island paradise.
Philip points to a myriad of causes: new hotels tapping into an inadequate water table; the usurpation of agricultural lands in roads; housing and hotel developments at an alarming rate; enormous piles of refuse and garbage overwhelming the local rubbish tip; and traffic jams fueled by an increasing number of cars and motorcycles likely to outpace efforts underway to create new roadways.
The leading French journalist also examines the valiant, but largely ignored, efforts by the governor to protect cultural values through establishing set back distances from rivers and seashores and no-build zones surrounding Hindu temples. Meanwhile the island regents, he claims, with vested financial interests collude with investors and real estate developers to bypass these zoning rules, irrevocably changing the cultural character of Bali in the process.
Le Monde also looks at a similar effort by the governor to introduce a moratorium on new accommodation projects, equally opposed and ignored by regional officials.
Stinging in its insightfulness, the article looks at how Bali is aping traditions and rituals from other destinations, fraudulently presenting them as intrinsic to the island. The bowed head and wai used to greet guests at hotels in villas in Bali is a borrowed nicety, more appropriate to Thailand. Similarly, floral leis draped around visitors necks are a Polynesian practice, completely unknown in Bali until it recent introduction by the tourism trade.
In keen competition for dollars, Yens and Euros – young people in Bali are increasingly distancing themselves from agricultural work and ritual religious practice, branding the “old ways” as both uncool and provincial.
Bruno Philip also spoke to religious leaders asking: “How can religion survive capitalism?” A Brahman near Ubud described the change now underway in Bali, saying: “Traditionally, people lived in fear of the gods. Because the Balinese were aware of nature’s forces, rites enabled them to maintain the balance between man and divinity. Now, even though the rites are still respected, an increasing number of people are focused on material possessions. The authorities’ policies are causing a loss of collective wisdom, a blurring of reference points and cultural uprooting.”
The inescapable conclusion suggested by the article may be that even the “island of the gods” is a paradise incapable of surviving in the present era.
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