Recovery: Taming the rwa bhineda after the Bali bombings

Jeff Lewis, Belinda Lewis

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


The 2002 Kuta nightclub bombings and the subsequent attacks in 2005 have been devastating for the communities of Bali. As the exception to foreign travel warnings for Indonesia, Bali had for decades maintained its reputation as a safe, peaceful tourist destination. These events however catapulted the island paradise into the international spotlight and into the arena of global terrorism. While the mass exodus of international visitors crippled the island’s tourist industry, the bombings also triggered an unprecedented social, economic, and spiritual crisis. For many Balinese, the bombings evinced a critical cosmological imbal-ance. In Hindu-Vedic Balinese cosmology, the rwa bhineda delicately suspends the forces of good and evil in an infinite and irresolvable dialectical combat. For many Balinese, this balance was somehow disturbed, creating the conditions for an outbreak of evil that killed over 200 unsuspecting people. Within this cosmology, however, evil cannot be subjugated, redeemed, or eradicated from the material or spiritual world, since it is always and inevitably the predicate of good. To this extent, even the bhuta kala demons are not considered intrinsically evil, nor are their spiritual nemeses considered entirely wholesome. The rwa bhineda conceives of good and evil in terms of a mutual identification, whereby the faithful will seek merely to minimize the harm that evil may inflict on the living and the dead. Clearly, the rwa bhineda has survived the ravages of the rapid social andcultural changes that have accompanied the modernization of Bali. The principle has nevertheless had to accommodate significant community dislocation and the strain of new ideas, meanings, and global cultural interaction. As numerous commentators have noted, Bali’s integration into the global economy has produced considerable refurbishments in traditional lifestyles and the Balinese symbolic environment. Anthropologists such as Annette Hamilton (1990) and Adrian Vickers (1990, 2003) have argued that tourism has transformed the Balinese people and their culture into a “created paradise” for consumption by international visitors. This imagining converts the realities of the island, and its sanguine and violent history, into an idyllic and secure destination, a place of spiritual and sensual elevation.The 2002 and 2005 bombings radically irrupted these imaginings, along with the institutional and discursive frameworks which support them. Indeed, the ontology of rwa bhineda has been forced to make furtheraccommodations. In the wake of the bombings, the economy and selfconfidence of the Balinese rapidly collapsed as tourist arrivals declined dramatically, unemployment escalated and community tensions increased (ICG 2003; UNDP 2003). While the Balinese themselves sought to harness the outbreak of evil through various cleansing rituals, international donor organizations and the Indonesian and provincial governments were developing more material and secular responses, including plans for economic recovery and intensified security. In particular, these plans were constituted around tourism and a “business as usual” motif that sought to restore the impression of harmony and security. As Indonesia’s second most important foreign capital earner after oil, tourism in Bali underpins economic security for the country as a whole. In seeking to restore the sense of security, the recovery plans have endeavored to tame the rwa bhineda, subsuming it under a mantle of harmony while the complex tensions arising in the wake of the tragedy have been played down. Within the cataclysm of the bombings and against the background ofrapid social transition and community volatility, the complexity of the interests and attitudes of the Balinese themselves seems largely to have been ignored or at least parenthesized. In particular, there has been a tendency in much of the recovery planning to collapse the various Balinese communities-Hindu, Muslim, secular, Indonesian transmigrant, expatriate, urban, rural-into a single and homogeneous community of needs. The aim of this chapter is to reinstate this complexity in order to illustrate the ways in which Balinese communities are experiencing the recovery process. Using qualitative and textual research methods, our research has sought tointerrogate the assumptions which underpin much of the “official” recovery discourse, matching them against the views of community members themselves. We suggest that the official discourse, which is focused on tourism, masks serious and unresolved concerns about social, environmental and economic problems which have been a source of insecurity for Balinese communities since well before the bombings (see also Lewis and Lewis 2007). This chapter aims to shed further light on some of the challenges and opportunities for restoring security and strengthening the resilience and sustainability of communities in Bali.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRethinking Insecurity, War and Violence
Subtitle of host publicationBeyond Savage Globalization?
EditorsDamien Grenfell, Paul James
Place of PublicationUnited Kingdom
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)0203894197, 9780203894194
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jul 2008

Cite this