Bali is reaching a crossroads
Anak Agung Gde Agung , Jakarta | Sun, 08/09/2009 11:35 AM | Opinion
The rejection by the Bali administration to relocate 10 Komodo dragons from their natural habitat in Wae Wulu, West Manggarai, to the island province is a highly praiseworthy decision made for all the right reasons.
For one, forcing the komodo dragons to exist in a possibly harmful alien environment is worthy of mention. Secondly, Bali has shown it will not pursue its own goals as a cultural tourist destination at the expense of something more significant.
The second reason is a very important development in the mind set of Balinese officials, who have up until now only sought the maximum number of tourists by any means possible. The result has been catastrophic for the conservation of Bali's rich culture and environment.
The erosion of Bali's, tradition, culture and natural environment as a result of massive efforts to boost tourist numbers has occurred in a number of ways. The most visible is the overload in infrastructure and overuse of precious natural resources. Roads have become cramped with cars at all hours of night and day, while farmlands have disappeared at a rate of around 1000 hectares per year to make way for hotels, villas and malls.
All of Bali's 37 beaches and eight rivers have undergone serious transformations from their original states through development activities that have illegally violated building codes. Water levels at various points are so low they risk drying up altogether, inviting sea water to seep in. This problem and many more like it were foregone conclusions when the number of hotel rooms, set by French tourist company Sceto at a maximum 22.000 for Bali, exceeded the 70.000 mark. This excludes villas, home stays and condominiums which have mushroomed in quantum leaps these past few years.
The more fatal effect of this overload of tourists lies in the impact it has culturally. As farmlands are converted into tourist infrastructure, alienation not only occurs with the land but also to the temples, rituals, ceremonies and communal life - the essential lifestyle of the people who used to live on that land. The Balinese way of life, culture and tradition has been displaced in the blink of an eye.
Worse still, the hotels that have come to replace the indigenous farmers bring in their wake western values of individualism, meritocracy, efficiency and other modernist traits. These exist in stark contrast to the previous Balinese symbol-oriented society. Needless to say, rapid transformations occur wherever the Balinese language is abandoned for English as a sign of advancement.
Considering this tragic trend, the recent announcement by the Balinese administration that the focus of its tourist industry is cultural is therefore something of a landmark. If seriously adhered to, this could signal the reversal of some of these damaging trends Bali has been enduring.
Now that the intent is there, the administration needs to identify the means by which is plans to achieve its objectives, that is conserving the island*s cultural and natural heritage.
The important point here, as far as tourist management is concerned, is to heed to the basic idea that tourists travel to a place to experience its unique cultural and natural environment. With this in mind, the administration should focus on three strategies.
First, it should aim to preserve and enhance the special cultures, traditions and natural environment of Bali through multifaceted defensive and motivational policies.
Next, it should bring in the right type of tourists who can appreciate the culture and natural environment of the island. It should stop emphasizing the sheer number of tourists arriving and begin advocating for the right kind of people it wishes to host. This will prevent Bali from becoming everything for everybody and eventually nothing for nobody. In short, it will protect it from losing its uniqueness. Those visiting Bali for its unique culture will reinvigorate local pride in culture.
Finally, Bali's key philosophy on life, the Tri Hita Karana, should be strengthened. The premise of the philosophy teaches that man in his every action should always heed his impact on the three main surroundings - his fellow being, his natural environment and his god or morality. In meeting his needs, man should balance them in such a way that the needs of those around him are not impaired.
He should adhere to the way of the Tri Hita Karana, or the "Sacred Balance", which governs behavior to conform to propriety, reciprocity and interconnection, all of which mean honoring heritage and conservation. If Balinese can truly live the way of the Tri Hita Karana, they will refrain from achieving their objectives at the expense of their tradition, culture and environment.
While the clock is ticking fast and Bali is rapidly approaching this crossroads, it is not too late to turn fate around. May the rejection of the Komodo dragons wake the Balinese to the dire danger that their rich heritage faces and galvanize them toward the right course of action.
Dr. Anak Agung Gde Agung is a graduate of Harvard (US) and Leiden (Holland) universities and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (US). He was a member of the Supreme Consultative Body (MPR - RI, 1999 - 2004) and was a Minister of Societal Affairs under President Abdurrahman Wahid.