"Sing ken ken" ("no worries" in Balinese) is a way of life, not just a saying.
To much of the world, Bali is the ultimate laid-back holiday destination. So many seem so relaxed on Bali. There is a gentleness to these people that easily obscures their deep cultural heritage and belief systems. The Balinese are also extremely tolerant of and hospitable towards other cultures and are famously friendly. They love to chat and while English is widely spoken, the Balinese love it when you converse with them in their own language. Even a few well-used words will help build the relationship. Throw in a Balinese phrase such as “sing ken ken” (no worries) and you’ll make a friend for life.
Speaking the language
Some basic words and phrases that will allow you to converse with your Balinese friends:
Goodbye: Selamat tinggal
How are you?: Apa kabar?
Thank you: Terima kasih
Where is…?: Di mana?
What is the address?: Alamatnya di mana?
Can you show me on the map?: Anda bias tolong tunjukkan pada saya
Respecting the Balinese culture
As modern and as ‘westernised’ as Bali appears, the traditional culture and customs of Bali remain as relevant and important to the Balinese people today as they did centuries ago. So, for we visitors, it is important that we behave appropriately at all times and in all places, be it when meeting local people or visiting the island’s numerous temples and sacred sites.
Dos and Dont’s
- Overly revealing clothing is still frowned upon. Be mindful and respectful when you are out in public.
- Going topless on Bali beaches is a no-no. It is embarrassing to the Balinese and is a great way to increase your chances of getting skin cancer in the extremely hot Bali sun.
- Don’t touch anyone on the head. To the Balinese, the head is sacred.
- When passing things from one person to the other, always use your right hand, or better still, use both hands. This is especially important when exchanging business cards. The left hand is considered unclean.
- Avoid communication with your hands on your hips. It is a sign of contempt or arrogance.
- To attract someone’s attending extent your arm with your hand turned down, not us as we do in the west.
Religion is of utmost importance to the Balinese people, the majority of whom are Hindu.
- You must cover your shoulders and knees if visiting a temple or mosque. At many temples frequented by visitors, aselandong or sash plus a sarong is usually provided for a small donation.
- Women are requested not to enter temples if they are menstruating, pregnant or have recently given birth.
- Never position yourself higher than a priest, particularly during religious festivals.
- Always remove your footwear before entering a temple or mosque. It is also polite to do this when entering a house.
Religious Ceremonies and Places of Worship
The majority of Balinese are Hindu and are very religious. Ceremonies are a unifying centre of Balinese life and are a source of much entertainment, socialisation and festivity. Ceremonies are carried out on auspicious dates determined by a priest and often involve banquets, dance, drama and musical performance to entice the gods to continue their protection against evil forces. The most important ceremonies are Nyepiand Galungan. If you are fortunate to be in Bali during the Nyepi ceremony and on Nyepi day, you will have the opportunity to witness and enjoy a ceremony of drama, festivity and belief that dates back centuries.
Nyepi Dayis the quintessential Balinese New Year’s celebration in the Hindu lunar-based calendar called theSaka which has its origins in South India. Each of the 12 lunar months ends on a new moon, called Tiem. The day after the moon on the ninth lunar month is the Balinese version of New Year’s Day – NYEPI. This is a very important and strictly observed religious day. All activity in Bali comes to a standstill. The entire island shuts down. Cultural police called Pecalang enforce the custom and can even put you in jail. The Balinese are forbidden to light fires or use electricity, drive or go for a walk outside, listen to the radio or watch television. Family members speak in lowered tones. Priests and all Balinese Hindu members fast and do not take a drink.
As you travel around Bali, you’ll see temples everywhere; in family homes, in villages and a main district temple. You’ll also notice that each morning offerings are placed in front of houses, shops and places of business. These are offerings to the gods, gifts of food and personal items in small hand-woven reed baskets with incense. When visiting the many large and small villages in Bali you should be respectful of these places and items of worship.
Bali and the Balinese people have a well-deserved reputation for being mellow and easy going, which is all the more reason for respecting your hosts when you visit their country. Be aware and respect their local sensibilities, their customs and religion. They will respond with friendship and kindness that will make your visit to the “Islands of the Gods” a memorable one – “Sing ken ken”.
Tips for the Trip
It makes sense to familiarise yourself with the country you are about to visit. Do your homework before you travel. Knowing a little about the land and the people will make your trip all that more enjoyable. It is also good to learn a few words in the native language, particularly words of greeting and of thanks. There are any number of handbooks, phrase books and websites that can help you. Check out www.tripsavvy.com
Pack appropriate clothingfor both the climate and local expectations. Sarongs are incredibly cheap to purchase in Bali from local tourist street stalls as well as major shopping centres. Or, you can ‘hire’ a sarong at any temple you may be visiting for a small donation.
Main picture: Respecting traditional customs and culture is important when we visit Bali
- The friendliest people on the planet
- Celebrations through dance have a deep religious significance
- Stone carvings depict the evil spirits
- A private family temple
- Symbolism is intrinsic to Balinese culture
- Nyepi Day celebrations
- Monsters on the street the day before Nyepi Day
- And on the beach
- Nyepi Giant floats make for a colourful procession
- The entire island shuts down – the streets are deserted
- Temples sit atop majestic cliffs at Ulu Watu on the Bukit Peninsular
- Fearsome effigies guard roadside temples
- Simple offerings to the gods on footpaths outside homes and businesses
- A floral tribute adorns a hotel entrance