The National government controls the island of Bali. The Banjar, on the other hand, impacts life at the village level (desa). This cooperative society basically determines almost every aspect of Balinese daily life.
The Subak is also a village organization. However, this important body is responsible for the irrigation and management of the Balinese rice fields.
The role of the Banjar should not be taken lightly. The daily life of a village is dependent on it, as such every individual within the village.
For instance, it makes decisions on dates of religious events, maintenance of temples, land use, organization and funding of important ceremonies and if necessary, they even hand out penalties.
Helping each other…
It is important for a Balinese to be part of this cooperation. Specific ceremonies such a marriage or cremation can be really expensive and impossible to organize by yourself. However, with this cooperation, all members assist in ensuring that these ceremonies can take place.
We were able to see how important these cooperations are during one of the biggest events ever, a royal cremation in Ubud. Here Banjars from the surrounding areas came together to help and to make sure that everything was well organized that day.
At other times we saw the cooperation in action during a surfing competition in Canggu. At this event, the members managed the traffic and assisted the people who entered the area.
Some of them look like gang members with their dark sunglasses and uniform Balinese clothing.
Because a Balinese village can be big, it often has more than one Banjar which together can participate in village activities. However, each cooperation does remain independent within a designated boundary.
Being a member
In the past, these boundaries were pretty clear. The cooperation would include members of a row of houses or a neighborhood with their own temple.
However, nowadays the concept has widened a bit. Within a specific area, there can even be more than one cooperation and members can even live far apart from each other.
Membership is compulsory and a married couple is automatically included. A couple will receive rights and obligations however if the husband, who is the active member of the family refuses to join he would be banned forever and would be considered ‘dead’.
He and his family would not be able to participate in any communal activity any longer.
Women and children are also considered a member, but they do not actively participate in the meetings. The wife of a family can only indirectly have a say through her husband who attends the meeting.
The Head of the Banjar
The head of the cooperation is the ‘Kliang-Banjar’ who is elected by the members and approved by the gods through a spiritual medium. Once elected he’s not entitled to decline.
It’s considered an honor to be chosen however being responsible for all the activities the Kliang is not entitled to any privileges or wages. Besides receiving extra rice or a small percentage of funds, he is equal to any other member of the group.
All the meetings are held in one place, a bale, which can be considered as a community hall where everybody gets together. Everything that the cooperation owns can be found here as well.
Each Banjar usually owns a fully equipped kitchen where food preparations take place for all of the festivities.
Besides that, they also have their own orchestra and dancing group which practice for or perform during festivities.
A couple of times when driving around Bali at night we would pass a village that was already pitch dark. All the lights in the houses would be turned off except for one location, the Banjar bale.
Here you would see the villagers huddled together watching a performance or just enjoying a chat. Sharing some village gossip probably… 😉
Besides the bale, you can always find the little communal temple called the pamaksan.
However, when a cooperation exceeds its boundaries and tends to be more a village instead this temple will become the village’s ‘temple of origin’ (pura puseh).
The ‘village temple’ (pura desa) and ‘temple of the dead’ (pura dalem) are the other two temples that are important for each independent Balinese village.
Together with the temple of origin, they form the three elementary temples (kahyangan tiga).
The daily life of the Balinese is filled with religious ceremonies and social responsibilities. It is clear that with this cooperative society the Balinese can follow their lifestyle which is strongly based on giving and receiving.