The Balinese have had enough of tourists walking around naked in sacred places, which is an insult to the local culture. Photo: Alesia Kozik, Pexels.
An influencer leans on the thick roots of a 700-year-old banyan tree and poses for a video. Her naked body is perfectly positioned for the camera. This post went viral, but not because everyone liked it so much – the post circulated among Balinese communities, where her desecration of a sacred tree sparked outrage among local residents.
Russian influencer Alina Fazleeva’s nudity was seen by these residents as an attack on the sanctity of the paperbark tree, which stands close to the temple and represents eternal life. When Fazleeva got wind of the criticism, she tried to make up for it by sending one Photo when she and her husband ask for forgiveness from the same tree. But it was too late. Two days later, officials announced the couple would be staying deported because they would have violated the local culture.
“Although they have apologized, we will not forgive them,” said the governor of Bali I Wayan Koster in response to Fazleeva’s insulting post. “It is more important to us that we preserve our culture and respect the dignity of Balinese culture than to tolerate any act that damages Balinese culture and the image of Bali tourism throughout the world.”
Fazleeva is far from the only foreigner who has been raped in Bali. Barely a week before she caused a stir with her Instagram post, the authorities launched an investigation Canadian actor Jeffrey Craigen. Craigen posted a video of him dancing a haka atop Mount Batur, a dormant volcano considered one of the most sacred mountains in Bali — again, completely naked. He was too deportedbecause the local authorities said they would crack down on tourists who misbehaved and disrespected the local culture.
Naked foreigners have caused controversy in Southeast Asia for years. Tourists posed naked Mt Kinabalu in Malaysia and on Angkor Wat in Cambodia. But this behavior seems to be particularly noticeable in Bali Indonesian tourist attraction where overt tourist behavior is common. With tourism back in full swing in Bali, the Balinese fear that the bad behavior will only escalate.
“The locals can’t do much because the Balinese are really dependent on tourism,” Megasari Noer Fatanti, a communications researcher at Indonesia’s Malang State University, told VICE. “Welcoming other people was taught to the Balinese at an early age.”
According to Megasari, who has studied Bali’s tourism marketing strategy, the island has long been portrayed as a paradise for travelers from around the world. But despite the fact that they welcome large groups of foreigners, even more than 6 million foreign tourists in 2019, the Balinese are also very good at protecting their unique culture.
“Bali is in a way a living museum. The Balinese practice a culture and tradition that is centuries old and which they still maintain very, very well,” Ravinjay Kuckreja, a researcher of indigenous religions in Bali, told VICE. “Although they are exposed to many different kinds of people, they have the ability to build a wall in one way or another. They keep what is theirs in their world and they don’t let tourism affect it. Instead, they use tourism and the money involved as fuel for their culture.”
Most Balinese believe in different worlds and levels of existence where spirits live in trees and volcanoes – this is why offerings are often placed next to large trees. Balinese also don’t tend to interfere much with nature and the gods, Kuckreja says, except for ceremonies or other specific purposes. And while nudity is quite common in traditional Balinese art, it is still a serious cultural offense to appear naked – or inappropriately dressed – near sacred objects.
“Balinese people believe that the world is not meant to be exploited by humans, but that it is up to humans to maintain the balance,” says Kuckreja. “In many cases, we see tourists who come here and do not respect the local culture, thus disturbing the balance.”
“If tourists cross these boundaries and enter the realm of the gods disrespectfully, it is considered an act of impurity and imbalance.”
In response to Fazleeva and Craigen’s nude stunts, the locals performed cleansing rituals at the sacred tree and Mount Batur, apologizing to the spirits. And to make sure other tourists wouldn’t be walking around in their Adams costumes, dozens of security cameras were installed. installed around Ulun Danu Beratan Temple, one of the island’s most popular tourist attractions.
Foreign tourists have also displayed other reckless behavior in Bali. In 2020, locals were very outraged by the dangerous and disrespectful act of a Russian influencer: he filmed himself while the sea with a motorcycle drove in. Last year, when Bali was in deep lockdown and people were forced to wear a mask, two YouTubers thought it was funny to walk into a local supermarket with a face mask painted on their faces. The prank bothered store employees who did not recognize the face paint.
Kuckreja believes that there is a colonialist attitude behind these actions. “It’s a colonial mentality that people think you can have fun in Asia, the police are corrupt anyway so you can do whatever you want,” he says.
Some Balinese are fed up with this behaviour, especially as the media increasingly reports tourists behaving badly. Balinese entrepreneur Niluh Djelantik, affectionately called ‘Madam Deportation’ by local residents, is committed to raising the issue of the unacceptable behavior of tourists.
Fazleeva and Craigen starred in one video which Niluh posted on Instagram in early May mocking them for their obscene actions. “ORDINARY TOURIST GO BACK HOME!!!!”, she captioned her video. “You are welcome to have a good time and enjoy our island. But if you disrespect us, you will face expulsion and consequences.”
Niluh finds the tourists’ disrespectful behavior very disappointing. Because Bali prides itself on allowing outsiders to experience its rich culture.
“Bali deserves quality tourism, just as all tourists deserve to have a good environment while in Bali,” Niluh told VICE. “We no longer receive the quality tourists we deserve.”
“So that’s why I’m so hard on them, just to tell them if you can’t do it in your own country, don’t do it in our country. It’s that simple.”
Wearing your clothes in religious places hopefully sounds like common sense. However, Kuckreja understands that crowds of tourists arrive in Bali without prior knowledge of traditions and taboos.
“You can’t expect tourists to know everything about Balinese culture and understand how the locals think,” says Kuckreja. “No matter how much you learn about the local culture, your knowledge is still limited because you don’t live there.”
“The best thing tourists can do is ask a local, ‘Hey, is it okay if I do this? Is it okay if I do that? Asking permission is a really good plan.”
This article originally appeared on VICE Asia.
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