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Bali History: Colonial Visitors

The "Bali fleet" of Cornelis de Houtman, leaving Amsterdam.

This article is the second part of our ‘Bali History’ miniseries. If you missed our first blog on Bali’s foundations and its ancient golden age, you can find it here. Today, we will be looking over the early colonial history of Bali. From the flittering arrival of Europeans, to the East India Company. This is an article you do not want to miss.

Early Arrivals

The island’s initial contact with a colonial power was brief to say the least. The visit came in 1512 while the island was still an array of independent kingdoms. It was the Portuguese expedition that first docked on its shores led by Antonio Abreu and Francisco Serrão.

Not much is known about this meeting, however, following this the island began to appear on Portuguese and Spanish maps, under the names BolyBale and Bally.

Although Portugal seemed content to leave Bali to its own devices, these were imperialist nations with an appetite for land and exotic goods. The Portuguese in 1585 were the first instigators of a colonial invasion on the island. They intended to construct a fort and trading post on the island. However, this plan floundered prior to arrival as the ship crashed into the reef of the Bukit Peninsula, leaving only five crewmen alive who floated to the beaches of Bali.

The men were taken into the service of the Dalem (King of Gelgel) and provided with wives and homes. If this expedition was successful, it would have had a massive butterfly effect across the entire islands history – possibly making it similar to the pseudo-independent Chinese nation of Macau compared to the Bali we know today as part of the much larger Indonesia.

The Dalem, pulled by two white buffaloes. king of bali. balinese kingdom.
The Dalem, pulled by two white buffaloes.

‘Jonck Holland’

Instead, it was the Dutch who arrived. Their initial arrival in 1597 was led by Cornelis de Houtman. He claimed the island as Jonck Holland, or ‘New Holland’ – completely disregarding the Bali namesake that had stood for centuries.

The Dalem presented the explorer with Pedro de Noronha. One of the Portuguese sailors who became stranded on the island 12 years prior.

A second expedition arrived in 1601 led by Conrelis van Eemskerck, strengthening their claims to the island. This was followed by the foundation of the Dutch East India Company in 1602 who were very active throughout Southeast Asia. They shipped Indonesian coffee, spices, and sugarcane back to Europe.

These Dutch traders attempted to create a trading post in 1620, with the horrifying aim of trading “rice, beasts, provisions, and women”. This was abandoned following hostility from the Balinese king and his subjects. The islands inhabitants continued to be ‘highly prized’ abroad. The males for their manual labour skills and the women for their beauty and art. The slave trade has arrived in Bali. Locals were sold by their own kings to the Europeans for opium. The Buleleng port in North Bali was the primary location for these transactions.

the insignia of the Dutch East India Company.
The insignia of the Dutch East India Company.

To cement their power on the island, the Dutch exploited the power struggles between the Balinese kingdoms. Their influence on the island continued to spread, but their power back in Europe was waning.

Wars on the Continent

In 1808 the Netherlands fell to France during the Napoleonic war. This briefly placed it under the rule of the French. The British saw this change of hands as a key time to stake their own claim to Bali, and although managing to acquire Java in 1811 – the Brits could never persuade the again independent Balinese to join their empire.

Napoleon Bonaparte looks over saint helena.

This was primarily due to their pledge to abolish slavery, which the Balinese rulers disagreed with. After these futile efforts, and the aggressive re-arrival of the Dutch in 1816 – Britain settled on Singapore to be their foothold in the region. Offering up another timeline of Balinese alternate history as one like the powerful economic city state.

This renewed Dutch approach did not take no for an answer from the native Balinese kings. A Dutch commissioner was deployed to sign ‘concept contracts’ with the leaders but these were rejected outright.

Undeterred, the Dutch returned believing their validation.

They would return years later, but not with peaceful compromise in mind. No, their goal was complete and utter Dutch control.

Join us next time as we look over the horrifying iron rule of the Dutch and their all-out attack on the Balinese and their way of life, as they fought south in a bloody war with the rightful owners of the island. The true colonial history of Bali was about to begin.

Andy Cook

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