Brief History of Bali & the Balinese

Bali’s History

Although traces are found of Stone Age people, most of Bali’s rich heritage started to develop during the Empire of the Majapahit (1293 to 1520 AD). It was an era ruled at its peak by Hayam Wuruk who beside Bali also controlled other kingdoms in the southern Malay Peninsula, Borneo, Sumatra, Kalimantan and eastern Indonesia, and the Philippines. It was a sophisticated golden time that brought over the Hindu-Javanese literature and artistic activities, which today are still the foundation of Balinese arts.

The golden age ended after the death of Hayam Wuruk, when conflicts arose within the ruling family, while the power of the kingdoms in Java only became stronger. The decline of the Majapahit Empire in the 15th century was followed by an exodus to Bali of Hindu priests, intellectuals, artists and members of the royal family.


Top historical events from 7th century to today

7th century

Indian traders influence many sectors of Balinese life, including the Hindu religion and trading goods for a living.

9th century

Sanskrit inscriptions on stones are hidden in Sanur.


After the fall of Javanese King, Kartanegara, Bali obtains its independence.


Patih Gajah Mada, Majapahit’s greatest prime minister, manages to take over Bali and once again, the island is under Javanese control. Evidences remain in Klungkung region, Semarapura.


Islam influences Java, and most of the Javanese convert to Islam. A massive exodus of priests, artists and intellectuals from Java to Bali occurs due to the disagreement against the conversion. It makes Bali a Hindu concentrated area.


Nirartha, a priest, builds dozens of places of worship for the Hindus including Pura Luhur Ulu Watu and Pura Tanah Lot.


Francis Drake, a European who is in search of spices, arrives on Bali. More Europeans come looking for spices including the Portuguese and the Dutch.


The Europeans fight to conquer the island with control shifting from Dutch to French to British and eventually back to the Dutch.


This year marks the end of slavery in Bali


There are rebellions against the Dutch, but none of them succeeds


Early exposure of Bali to the international stage when Gregor Krause, a German visitor, takes pictures of topless local females. After World War I ends, a stream of Dutch visitors come to Bali, mainly to Singaraja.


Indonesia proclaims its independence from the Dutch with intense revolutions afterwards. I Gusti Ngurah Rai, a Balinese warrior who fights for freedom in the Puputan Margarana war dies; however, the Dutch lose their colonial confidence since then.


The airport is renovated, and international flights are available. Sanur starts off the mass tourism with its Bali Beach Hotel (now Grand Inna Sanur).


Gunung Agung eruption causes the deaths of thousands of people and the evacuation of hundreds of thousands.


Australian filmmaker, Alby Falzon, shoots a short surfing documentary which leads to a stream of Australian visitors afterwards. Another Australian starts a club to cater to foreign partying styles.


President Soeharto resigns after 32 years of reign. His family owns and controls many prestigious resorts in Bali.


The effect of the Soeharto resignation is Muslim sponsored riots that happen in almost all parts of Indonesia, including the island of Bali. Hundreds of Chineses and Christians fly to Lombok as their businesses are burnt.


Bali Bombings cause the deaths of hundreds of people. Bali economy is soon shattered after two suicide bombers blow up two famous clubs in Bali, the Paddy’s Pub and Sari Club. The bombs are attached to a backpack and a van. The detonation of these bombs in the main street of Kuta is purposely done by Jemaah Islamiyah, a radical Islamist group who disagrees on government support towards the United States and Australia.


A permanent memorial is built on what used to be Paddy’s pub. It is made from carved stone in Balinese style with marble plaque that enlists all of the victims (202 people). Australian ambassador and the local officials, including the victims’ families, attend the ceremony dedicated to commemorate the incident.


Bombs explode on two major tourist attraction sites, Kuta town square and Jimbaran, killing 20 locals and injuring hundreds of men. One of the bombs is carried in a backpack and blasts inside Raja’s restaurant; the other one explode in one of Jimbaran’s restaurants. Mutilated bodies are a shred of strong evidence that it is a suicide bombing. Abu Bakar Bashir is found guilty of the conspiracy behind the bombing. He is sentenced to 15 years in prison. The raises controversies as the public think he deserves a death sentence.


After tensions decrease, Bali tourism begins to blossom again. The island hosts International Geothermal Congress 2010; which signifies clearly that tourists are safe to come to Bali. The movie Eat Pray Love that stars Julia Roberts exposes Bali and Ubud in particular.


Many international events take place in Bali, including the East Asia Summit 2012, APEC CEO summit in 2013 and Miss World 2014. Bali’s first highway above the sea takes only 14 months to finish. It is constructed to avoid traffic congestion as the country hosts the 2013 APEC conference. The new international airport has opened, capable of handling up to 12 million passengers a year.

Nov 2017

Mount Agung awakes and erupts several times, staying active for months. Thousands are evacuated since the government establishes a safety zone. Casualty remains low; however, this situation affects the Balinese strongly. Tourism numbers dropped drastically, affecting every line of business, causing immediate layoffs. Locals, mostly low-income families and farmers near the mountain, are evacuated for several months. The living conditions in these camps are harsh, and the life stock of the farmers suffer due to inadequate attention.

June 2018

A new governor, Wayan Koster, is elected by the Balinese people. The Balinese have high hopes that the new governor will help tackle pressing issues and focus on thriving island. Concern arises about the increase in traffic and trash problem, among other pressing issues.

August 2018

Several earthquakes near Lombok causes massive damage in the north of Lombok, killing almost 400 people. People flee the crowded Gili Islands. Minimum damage was recorded in Bali.

March 2020

Indonesia declared the first case of Covid-19 in the country, which caused more than 5000 fatalities in Indonesia. This global pandemic has caused severe effects in many parts of life in Bali. Even it’s considered the worst disaster in the history, worse than two bombing attacks and Mt. Agung explosions. However, just like other hard times, this too shall pass.

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