The beautiful island of Bali is renowned for its glorious landscapes and beaches, palaces and temples, and its unique culture. Terrorist bombs in 2002 and again in 2005 shocked the world; but violent death is nothing new to the Balinese. A Puputan is a Balinese ritual mass-suicide ceremony, an alternative to surrender. In a series of Puputan suicides between 1894 and 1908, thousands died in the face of colonial forces.
The Dutch came to Indonesia in the 17th century, though contact with Bali was limited to trade until military intervention was prompted by the Balinese custom of ‘salvaging’ wrecked ships. When a large frigate that had run aground was looted, the Dutch retaliated. It took their vastly superior forces three campaigns to shatter Balinese defenses, but from the 1850s they gradually gained a foothold and by 1900 much of the island was under control.
Another plundered ship provided an excuse for action on the south coast: the Sixth Military Expedition arrived in September 1906. The Rajah of Badung rejected an ultimatum and the Dutch landed on Sanur Beach on September 14. The troops marched on Denpasar.
The town appeared deserted, the only sound an ominous drumming from the palace. As the soldiers approached, a silent procession emerged. At its head was the Rajah in his palanquin, followed by his court, guards, priests, wives and children all wearing white cremation robes and splendid jewels. Each carried a kris (ceremonial lance).
The procession halted, the Rajah stepped down and at his signal a priest plunged a kris into his heart. Now all turned daggers on themselves and each other. Unnerved by this horrifying display and startled by a stray gunshot, the Dutch opened fire as women mockingly hurled jewels and coins. The gunfire continued. The mound of corpses grew…
When: September 20 1906
Where: Denpasar, Bali
Death toll: Approximately 1,000
You should know: The Balinese honored the sea deity Batara Baruna, and accepted as gifts from the gods ships wrecked on their reefs. Ships, passengers and cargoes were shared between die local Rajah and the ‘salvagers’.