Bali at War: The Struggle for Independence by Bill Dalton

Far outnumbered and outgunned, the final battle for Bali’s fight for freedom was joined in the village of Marga. When the heavily armed Dutch troops started their ground and aerial attack, most of the Balinese were armed only with kris and sharpened bamboo poles. The fierce engagement broke Balinese resistance, but the Indonesians eventually won the war.

In one of the largest full-scale revolutions of the 20th Century, the republican struggle against the Dutch lasted for four more long and bloody years, involved sporadic armed conflict, intense and bitter negotiations, internal Indonesian political upheavals, violent communal clashes and in the end required the intervention of major international diplomatic initiatives.

Initially there was little opposition to the Dutch reoccupation of Bali at the end of World War II, but when the Balinese refused a Dutch demand for surrender guerilla forces under the leadership of a young aristocrat, 29-year-old Lt. Col. I Gusti Ngurah Rai, created the TKR (People’s Military Force) whose irregular soldiers started to put up resistance Dutch.

Colonel Rai’s plan was to use guerrilla tactics to disrupt and harry the Dutch by concentrating his forces on the slopes of Gunung Agung from which to ambush Dutch troops. After a series of skirmishes in Tabanan, Rai’s platoon set out on a “Long March” to the volcano. The Dutch discovered the ploy and the guerilla band was intercepted at Marga on November 20th, 1946. With the use of a B-25 bomber the Dutch commenced an aerial bombardment and ground attack which annihilated all 97 Balinese guerillas – a virtual reenactment of the last-ditch Puputan 40 years earlier during the Dutch conquest of the island at the turn of the century.

The engagement at Marga was a shattering defeat for the Balinese resistance movement, though it was an immense psychological boon to the independence struggle. So many original guerilla leaders and high-caste cadre lost their lives that the battle marked the beginning of much heavier participation of fighters from the lower Balinese castes.

The actual official surrender of Bali took place in mid-1946, when a newly formed Dutch East Indies army arrived on Java to relieve the embattled British Commonwealth army as it was leaving. Succumbing to international pressure, the Dutch finally left Indonesia for good in 1949 when the country finally achieved its full independence.

Lt. Col. I Gusti Ngurah Rai’s name is now found on statues and street signs all over the island, and Bali’s main bypass road as well as its international airport are also named in his honor. Besides celebrating the national Independence Day celebrations on August 17th, Bali marks their own independence day every November 20th. Called “Hero’s Day,” this day commemorates what is tantamount to Bali’s own “national” independence struggle.

Origins of Revolution
The roots of Balinese resistance had actually begun much earlier in the mid-19th century. After the shipwreck of a Dutch vessel on the shores of north Bali and its looting by the local population, the Dutch resident went to Buleleng to investigate but received a hostile and humiliating reception. In June 1846, the first Dutch punitive military expedition was launched against a Balinese force of 50,000, killing 400 Balinese and destroying the royal palace at Singaraja.

The Balinese signed a treaty of submission and a Dutch garrison was stationed at Buleleng. Political tension increased all over the island, convincing the occupiers that further military intervention was necessary. In June 1848, after their treaties were violated and resistance continued, another Dutch expedition was launched against a young prince named Gusti Ketut Jilantik, today a revered Balinese independence hero. Lured into pursuing the Balinese force to the inland fortress of Jagaraga, the Dutch troops were encircled and the incursion ended in disaster for the Dutch.
The Balinese had suddenly become the nightmare of the mid-19th century Dutch colonial state. There was no alternative but to show the Balinese, the English and all enemies of the Dutch that the Netherlands was still the dominant power in the Indies. In April 1849, one of the largest Dutch military expeditions ever organized in the archipelago was launched. After two days of fighting and the death of Jilantik, Buleleng and the fortress of Jagaraga were soundly defeated. Karangasem, Klungkung and Jembrana were then subjugated, and the then Dutch set their sights on southern Bali.

In May 1904 a small Chinese steamer was wrecked and looted off Sanur. The Dutch used the event as a pretense to throw a complete naval blockade around Bali. In 1906, the Dutch landed an expeditionary force on the beach in Sanur and advanced on Badung (Denpasar). A naval bombardment commenced early the next morning, firing the king’s palace. The ensuing fight to the death resulted in the obliteration of the entire royal family.

The Puputan is today commemorated with a monument on the west side of Denpasar’s public square, paying tribute to the hundreds of Balinese men, women, and children who had marched to their deaths. All remaining royalty and their courts– Tabanan in 1906 and Klungkung in 1908 – who opposed the Dutch were either wiped out or exiled and their properties confiscated. The following years of Dutch rule was typified by a benign lethargy, the Balinese becoming the darlings of the Dutch and Bali maintained as a sort of exotic cultural preserve only accessible to a well-connected coterie of the rich and famous.

Japan Invades
Bali was rudely shaken out of its political isolation when the Japanese invaded the Netherlands East Indies in 1942. During the three years of occupation, while the rest of the eastern islands were subject to the oppressive and arrogant control of the Japanese Navy, the occupier’s treatment of the Balinese was comparatively indulgent. Nevertheless, Bali’s population suffered critical food and medical supply shortages.

In spite of their arbitrary cruelty and oppression, punctuated by torture and killings, the Japanese offered Indonesia an extraordinary and unprecedented opportunity for independence. The Japanese indoctrinated and politicized the Balinese, trained and armed paramilitary youth groups and generally raised the consciousness of what it means to be an Indonesian.

To this day many Indonesians believe that the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was heaven-sent. Eleven days after the explosion, on August 17th, 1945, Soekarno proclaimed Indonesia’s independence in Jakarta. Before the Dutch could return to restore order, Balinese militants moved to seize weapons from Japanese armories.

In 1946 the Dutch landed 2000 troops on Bali to retake the island. After the defeat of the Balinese forces, the status quo returned to Bali with the local rajas overseen by Dutch officials. Having lost control of western Indonesia, the Dutch included Bali in their new Republic of Eastern Indonesia, which they later hoped to later merge into a pro-Dutch federation. In 1948, Bali was designated an autonomous state within that republic.

Under the leadership of Anak Agung Gede Agung, the raja of Gianyar, this state eventually turned against the Dutch when they broke a treaty with the fledgling republic. The UN Security Council ordered the Dutch to withdraw their troops and enter into negotiations. Finally, in 1949 after more than 50 years of occupation, Bali and the rest of Indonesia (except West New Guinea) became a part of the legally recognized United States of Indonesia, an entity that was dissolved the following year to form the new Republic of Indonesia.

Monuments and Cemeteries
Monuments erected to commemorate Bali’s struggle for independence are found all over the island – wherever local people lost loved ones during the war. Perhaps the most ambitious and ostentatious of these is the 45-meter-high Bajra Sandhi Monument in Niti Mandala in Renon, a suburb of Denpasar where most provincial government offices are located.

Conceived by architect Ir. Ida Bagus Gede Yadnya and initiated by Governor Ida Bagus Mantra in 1981, the monument stands majestically in the middle of a green field used by the public for jogging, soccer and basketball games in the early mornings and evenings. In the shape of Bajra, a bell used by Hindu Priests during religious ceremonies, the architecture as a whole symbolizes Mount Meru of Hindu mythology. The 17 main gates and 8 pillars of the structure reflect the date Indonesia achieved independence.
The most emotionally charged memorial is the war heroes cemetery in Marga, 15 km northeast of Tabanan on the road to Bedugul, which honors the regiment of guerilla fighters killed shortly after the end of World War II. Several Puputan took place in Bali, the last one occurring in Marga in 1946. Marga is not a regular tourist stop, but it is worth a visit if only for its charged and reverential atmosphere.

The Margarana (“Battle of Marga”) memorial was originally built in 1954 and has been recently renovated. In the middle is a 17-meter-tall, eight-roofed monument, shaped like a Javanese candi, which is designed to symbolize the unity of the revolutionaries who sacrificed themselves.

A plaque is inscribed with the text of a famous letter the Balinese commander, Lt. Col. I Gusti Ngurah Rai, wrote to a Dutch officer, pledging to give his life for the revolution. Before the Japanese invaded this young officer had been trained in the Dutch East Indies Army. But after the Independence Proclamation in August 1945, Rai sided with the revolution. In May 1946 Lieutenant-Colonel Termeulen invited Rai to negotiate, asserting that his loyalty should be with the Dutch. Ngurah Rai answered by stating that there could only be peace on Bali if the Dutch left.

Ceremonies taking place next week will mark the 66th anniversary of the battle, with a symbolic reenactment of the “Long March,” attended by scouts, soldiers and officials. A small museum on the grounds (open 8am-12pm) exhibits uniforms, weapons, documents, photos, battle plans and remnants of the battle during Bali’s armed resistance. The only day that this site is visited by significant numbers of people is August 17th.

A strange, silent and eerie feeling permeates the row upon row mortuary monuments to the 1,372 men and women who died on Bali fighting Netherlands East Indies forces, including 11 Japanese soldiers who defected to the Indonesian side. Balinese tombstones bear the swastika, Christian cross and Muslim half moon. The names of the fallen are also inscribed on a long wall.

Revolutionary Timeline
1848 – Dutch military expedition defeated by a Balinese force in the Battle of Jagaraga
1906 –Annihilation by Dutch troops of the entire Badung royal family by ritual suicide (Puputan)
1908 – Bali subjugated and occupied by the Dutch
August 17, 1945 – Proclamation of Independence by Soekarno in Jakarta
September 1945 – Arrival of British troops to accept surrender of Japanese Imperial Forces and re-establish Dutch civilian rule
November 10, 1945 – Battle of Surabaya against the British occupation
November 20th, 1946 – Battle of Marga, Bali’s “Hero’s Day”
March 1946 – Linggajati Agreement. The Dutch recognize republican rule of Java and Sumatra
April 1946 – Battle of Sunda Kecil, Tabanan
July 1947 – first Dutch military offensive (“police action”)
December 1948 – second Dutch military offensive; Yogyakarta captured. Republican leaders arrested
and exiled, arousing strong international reaction
January 1948 – Renville Agreement recognizes temporary Dutch control of areas taken by police actions – the low point of republican fortunes
December 27, 1949 – The Netherlands formally transfers power to the independent United States of Indonesia (RUSI) federation at the Round Table Conference
August 17, 1950 – Federation dissolved and Soekarno proclaims the unitary Republic of Indonesia

Copyright © 2012 Bali Advertiser
You can read all past articles of BA Feature Article at