Before the Ruipah Ruled

Prior to 1951, Chinese Coins or 'Kepeng' with Holes in the Middle were the Currency of the Realm in Bali and Much of Indonesia

Still to be found in local markets where they form a part of a religious offering or where they are incorporated into decorative handicrafts – the kepeng coins or pis bolong were, until 1951, a legal form of currency across the Indonesian archipelago.

The Chinese coins, distinguished with holes at their centers, were the preferred means of payment from the 10th Century based on scientific digs at archaeological sites, according to an article “Kepeng Coins Through Time: The Archaeological Perspective and Creative Economy in the Province of Bali” written by Ni Komang Ayu Astiti and published in “Forum Arkeologi”, Volume 27, Nomor 1 of 2014.

Ni Komang Ayu Astiti wrote that local mythology mistakenly contends that kepeng coins were first brought to Bali in the 11th Century by Tang Ci Keng, a princess of the Song Dynasty who married the Balinese King Sri Jaya Pangus. But, in reality, ancient kepeng coins dating from well before the 10th Century have been found in Bali. This demonstrates commercial contact between Bali and Mainland China dating from at least the 7th Century Tang Dynasty when kepeng coins were the more-or-less-offical means of exchange across much or present day Indonesia.

As reported by beritabali.com, while the active use the kepeng coins ended in 1951, when the Banking rules declared the Rupiah as the national currency, the Balinese Hindu continue to be used these coins in Balinese religious ceremonies as symbolic offerings to the Gods.

Research carried out by a team from the Denpasar Archaeological Institute determined that Chinese kepeng found in Bali originate from three periods: the Tang Dynasty of the 8th-10th Century; the Ming Dynasty of the 13th-14th Century; and the Ching Dynasty of the 17th-20th Century.

The most familiar form of kepeng coin found in Bali are known by the name of pis bolong, distinguished by the Chinese kanji characters printed on each face of the coin. The head side of the pis bolong bears the symbol for “mien” or “sleh”, while the reverse face shows the symbol for “pei” or “trep.” The hole at the center of the kepeng coin is four-sided. Also shown on the face of the coin is information pertaining to the Emperor of China in power at the time of the coin’s minting.

Over time, other varieties of kepeng coins have emerged with vintages from China, Japan and Vietnam appearing entering into circulation. The Vietnamese coins had kanji character, while coins minted in Indonesia bore old Javanese and Arabic script together with wayang characters or depictions of local flora. Researchers have also discovered more than a fair share of counterfeit coins.

For a period, ships arriving and departing Bali would use large quantities of kepeng coins as ballast.

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