The ‘country’ of Bali

Yesterday the British defendant in a notorious murder trial apologised to the ‘country’ of Bali during his sentencing hearing. He’s not likely to impress the judges, who are bound by the laws of their country, Indonesia. Bali is one of 34 provinces in Indonesia, the fourth most populous country in the world.

It’s a common misconception that Bali is its own country. Maybe because it’s an island? But there are more than 17000 islands in Indonesia, and not many of them are mistaken for separate countries. Maybe because Balinese is a separate language from Bahasa Indonesia? Wait, there are more than 300 spoken languages in this country, the unifying language being the constructed and relatively new Bahasa Indonesia (an interesting history here (for those fascinated by language).

Ahh, but Indonesia is a Muslim country, and Bali isn’t Muslim – that must be it. Well, it might be. Bali is unique in this archipelago in that the official religion is Hinduism. Indonesia itself actually has six state-sanctioned religions: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Confucianism. But Islam is predominant, and the country has the largest Muslim population in the world.

Bali does sometimes feel like it is a separate country, probably because of the integration of worship into everyday life, but although a self-governing province, it takes its direction from the President and the Parliament in Jakarta, just like the other 33 provinces.

Indonesia is a country born out of Dutch colonial rule which brought together such diverse cultures and languages under the umbrella of trade in spices. Just over 70 years old, this country’s motto is Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, Unity in Diversity. Fitting.

Here endeth the lesson. We will know what the judges felt about the defendent’s ill-informed apology next week.


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