What to Know About Bali's Culture

What to Know About Bali's Culture

Before traveling to Bali, learn about Balinese names, flowers and ceremonies By: Mindy Poder
<p>Canang sari // © 2017 Mindy Poder</p><p>Feature image (above): Visitors are bound to see plenty of offerings throughout the island. // © 2017 Mindy...

Canang sari // © 2017 Mindy Poder

Feature image (above): Visitors are bound to see plenty of offerings throughout the island. // © 2017 Mindy Poder


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Though just one of Indonesia’s thousands of islands, Bali can feel like its own world. Visitors might come in quest of its beautiful beaches, but they’ll be most taken by its unique and well-preserved local culture. The following tips will help you decipher Balinese basics, from what’s up with all the flowers to whether your new friend is a middle child.

What’s in a name? 
Central to Balinese culture and its Agama Hindu Dharma religion is the desire for balance and orientation. This focus shows up even in Balinese names — parents usually name their children by birth order, and names are the same whether the child is male or female. From first to fourth, the names are Wayan, Made, Nyoman and Ketut. And what about the fifth child, you ask? The cycle begins again — he or she would be called Wayan. As you can imagine, nicknames are quite common. 

Watch your step.
Walk through any temple or street in Bali and you’re bound to see canang sari, a banana-leaf tray filled with rice, flowers and incense. These colorful satchels are an offering to god, and you’re likely to find them everywhere. Though it’s a pleasure to see these offerings, it can be traumatizing to step on one. If done unknowingly, worry not — but to purposefully knock one over can bring bad luck. 

Ceremonies are a family affair. 
Balinese are open and hospitable — and if you’re lucky, you might get invited to a family ceremony complete with prayers and offerings. These could include the newborn ceremony, where a baby’s placenta (believed to be its sibling) is buried at the home; the nyambutin ceremony, which occurs after a baby (believed to be a god) turns 105 days old and can touch the ground for the first time; and the tooth-filing ceremony, where an adolescent’s teeth are filed to signify that earthly evils have been overcome.

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