Traditional Balinese Houses

Houses in England are very clearly divided, and structured, giving thought to various practical issues, such as sunlight, and privacy. In contrast, houses in Bali are designed with the community at heart. Where English people hide behind closed doors, Balinese houses are open to all. A visit to a rural village in Bali is a fascinating experience, as not much has changed for hundreds of years, despite various upheavals such as Dutch colonialism, Japanese occupation and full scale tourism. Once you are away from the busy tourist hubs, life takes on a whole other feel. The pace slows right down, as villagers go about their daily routines, with no thought for time. A traditional village consists of family compounds, lining dirt lanes, shaded by trees. Each compound is separated by low walls, or fruit trees. Everyone walks freely from one compound to the next. The concept of privacy does not exist. The village center has a banjar building where everyone congregates for regular meetings, and various musical practices. Decisions are made as a group, for the benefit of the community. A friend of mine once likened the Balinese to bees in a hive, which is an interesting and pretty apt analogy. Just as bees have a way of communicating with the hive, the Balinese have their own signals. There is a large wooden gong that is used to summon the villagers in times of emergency, such as a fire, or to inform of a death. Each event has its own specific beat. The compounds themselves have a very clear structure, based on physical and spiritual elements. There is only one main entrance, and once inside, you will encounter another low wall. This is put there deliberately to confuse uninvited spirits. Spirits are believed to only be able to move in straight lines, so this obstacle will prevent them entering the house. Once inside the compound, the layout is based on human anatomy. The head is to the North, and is where the family temple is placed. This consists of at least five separate shrines, that are blessed daily with offerings.  Here is the entrance to our family temple: family temple Beside the temple are the bedrooms, which represent the arms: bedroom The doors to the bedrooms are made of intricately carved wood, and can even include gilding. To the East is the Bale Dangin, which is where the offerings are prepared, and there is also a bed which is used to lay dead bodies as they are prepared for cremation. I will talk more about that in another post, as we are preparing for my father in law’s cremation this week. The courtyard represents the navel, and is where the family congregates, there is a rice grain storage facility, that provides a great place to sit and chat with neighbors and family: relaxing in rice bale Finally, to the south is the kitchen, representing the legs, which consists of 2 rooms, one open for cooking, and the other enclosed for storing the cooking materials: kitchen The bathroom is located behind the kitchen, and beyond that is where the livestock and vegetable garden is located. This compound can house up to ten families, as sons marry and bring their wives to live with them. Balinese men never leave home, they simply expand the existing compound. In this way all generations live side by side, and the older ones look after the children as the younger generations go to work. This gives grandparents a sense of purpose and belonging that is sometimes lacking in the western cultures. I love this idea, and like to think my children will continue this tradition, and take care of me in my old age!! Or perhaps I am only dreaming!

2 thoughts on “Traditional Balinese Houses

  1. So are Balinese people predominantly Hindu? The architecture feels somewhat similar to Indian ancestral houses. But the sense of “community” is diminishing my country day by day. People want to move to cities and towns for better prospects, leaving their parents behind in the villages. And Agriculture as a profession has lost its dignity. So it’s good to see that the Balinese are still upholding that tradition!

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  2. yes the Balinese are Hindu, the only island in Indonesia that is. Unfortunately here too, people are being lured away from the rice fields to the cities and the promise of more money. We are now starting to have to import rice, which is ridiculous


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