This book tells the history of Bali—the "paradise island of the Pacific"—its rulers and its people, and their encounters with the Western world.
Spanning the entire history of Bali since the beginning of recorded time, it stretches the culture and politics of the island as a backdrop to the dilemma hat now confronts the Balinese: the choice between economic decay or cultural decadence in the face of "cultural tourism"—Bali's only promising industry.
Balinese history tells a fascinating story. For a thousand years, the peculiar splendor of Balinese–Hindu culture came very close to satisfying the social, religious and artistic needs of the people. The arrival of European visitors in the 1920s and 1930s soon made the island's magical charms known to the outside world, and forever changed the "real, unspoiled" Bali. This is the story about the vulnerability—and durability—of an ancient culture to the modern world.
There already exists a wealth of literature on Balinese art and thought and the singularly beautiful Balinese way of life which often seems to outsiders like a lavishly costumed pageant continuously and merrily played out against a superbly scenic tropical backdrop. Except for several Balinese court chronicles, impenetrable to most foreigners, and a few other works, mainly in Dutch, by Western writers of the nineteenth or early twentieth century, there is almost nothing of any consequence with regard to Balinese history, economics, and politics, or the roots of the present dilemma. It is the aim, therefore of this account to provide a background sketch of historic events, to trace the complications of domestic and international politics, to depict the changing economic scene, and to introduce the key characters, Balinese and Western, of the island drama of the last millennium as it now comes to an especially significant new climax. Since all else in Bali cues to the cultural tradition, there is also a chapter dealing with the basic conceptual elements of a life–outlook best described as Balinism.
A new introduction by Adrian Vickers, a professor of history at the University of Sydney, places the book into the context of the literature on Bali and the impact that the Western world and tourism are currently having on the island.