Keeping The Peace – Pecalang of Bali By Polly Christensen

Every village in Bali has pecalang. The traditional guards maintain village security and manage traffic flow during religious and customary ceremonies. Pecalang have had an important role in Bali for hundreds of years. Pecalang were created to maintain the security of the village and in practice, they work hand in hand with hansip (security officers of the administrative village).

In true Balinese fashion the costumes worn by the pecalang demonstrate a harmony of symbolism, in terms of design and accessories. Usually the costumes consist of a chessboard-like sarong, white shirt, black waistcoat and headband completed with kris (dagger) affixed on the back. The checked motif represents the opposition of good and evil represented by white and black, the combination of which balances out into equilibrium. These sarongs can be seen in ceremonies and on statues throughout Bali. The positioning of the kris dagger represents the pecalang’s approach to peace keeping, which is passive rather than aggressive.

Things have run smoothly in Bali for centuries, and continue to do so today. In contrast with other more turbulent areas of the archipelago in recent years, Bali has remained one of the safest and most peaceful places in the country. This is largely due to the social organization of the Balinese, which stems from their governing spirituality. All levels of the community are involved in maintaining peace and security, successfully adding to the atmosphere of tranquility and natural harmony for which the Island of the Gods is renowned.

Pecalang are becoming increasingly important in Bali these days, as the tourism industry stimulates wave after wave of non-Balinese migrants seeking job opportunities. Crime is on the increase as a result, hence the need for continuous improvement in security, in which pecalang, hansip and village heads all play an important part, by ensuring that migrants register with the village banjar.

Despite being hundreds of years old, pecalang still play an important role among Balinese society. The job of pecalang is to secure activities related to Balinese customs, such as temple ceremonies, Gabon processions, wedding-processions. Pecalang are usually chosen by the village heads and given an assignment. At Tanah Lot, pecalang are present to ensure security of the many visiting tourists.

When it comes to big events, Bali has its own traditions of safeguarding events, with local authorities involving traditional Balinese security personnel. Major events in which pecalang plays an important role are the Bali Arts Festival, Nyepi (Day of Silence) and the International Kite Festival. When no major events are taking place, however, the pecalang settle back into more peaceful but equally useful roles such as controlling traffic. All security roles are carried out in conjunction with the police department, demonstrating their vertical and horizontal cooperation to keep Bali safe, as their ancestors have done.

The involvement of pecalang contributes to Bali’s growing reputation as a tourist destination. Bali’s Police Head Budi Setiawan has confirmed the planned participation of Balinese pecalang in ensuring the safety of Bali at the upcoming PrepComm IV in Nusa Dua this year, which will attract thousands of visitors.

From a religious and philosophical point of view, Nyepi is meant to be a day of self-introspection, meditation and observation of higher social values. Nyepi is perhaps the most important of the island’s religious days and the prohibitions are taken seriously. Hotels are exempt from Nyepi’s rigorous practices but streets outside are closed to both pedestrians and vehicles (except for airport shuttles or emergency vehicles) and village wardens (pecalang) are posted to keep people off the beach. Indeed Nyepi day has made Bali a unique island.

This year, village security personnel detained two Australian men in Kuta for allegedly roaming the streets during Nyepi. Pak Manku Urip, a Desa Adat Kuta pecalang, detained the two men for violating Nyepi curfew after discovering the two men walking in public around the Bali Bomb memorial. They were detained and handed over to the Head of Environment (kaling) for Banjar Kuta.

Jerinx, the drummer from local super-group Superman Is Dead recently visited the Sekar Alas Center to highlight one of the key points on his villages ‘list of demands’. Jerinx stated that ‘each morning local school children continued to see drunken people on their way to school in Kuta’. Governor Made Mangku Pastika responded with a claim he is ready to facilitate with the related parties:

‘It is a problem that has to be solved from within, from your own people”, said Governor Pastika. “We set the time, and I set the time with the regent and we work on it. The kids do matter. This is all because of our greed for material things and now the Lord is money. It is the pakraman (village), pecalang, and the government who need to clear the roads and keep order”, he added.

There are also groups of security guards who protect Bali’s marine conservation zone from illegal fishing and other forms of coral/marine-life theft by the public. The voluntary sea guards patrol the beach by foot or by motorboat.

Pecalang laut are different from other community guards because they have an additional responsibility of helping conserve the diversity of marine life, protecting sea creatures. The traditional village security officers have prepared a series of unique laws to protect the sustainability of local coral reefs.

The pecalang laut were created after rampant illegal fishing and coral theft almost devastated the beach’s ecosystem. A particularly destructive practice was dynamite fishing. But in 2000, a coalition of businesses, scientists, and residents teamed up to create the pecalang laut and dynamite fishing off the beach has all but ceased to exist. Those caught have been taught about the importance of conservation and had their fishing equipment confiscated by security guards.

The village of Pemuteran in Buleleng regency, created guidelines, which contain rules on the utilization of marine and coastal spatial planning to help preserve their coral reefs. The conservation of coral reefs in Pemuteran has resulted in two awards from the UN Development Programme (UNDP). The Karang Lestari Foundation community forum accepted both awards in June 2012.

The 36-man pecalang laut from Pemuteran were awarded three speedboats from the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries and the Buleleng Fisheries Department. Bali has a 437-kilometer long shoreline and a number of minor ports, including Celukan Bawang in Buleleng and Tanah Ampo cruise port in Karangasem. These are considered vulnerable from a security point of view.

IB Surakusuma, chairman of the Bali chapter of the Indonesian Congress and Convention Association (INCCA), recently expressed his concern over the lack of security along the island’s coast, suggesting security along the islands coastline must be strengt
hened, as Bali has always been a soft target for security disturbances. Bali is now a venue for various world-scale events and must convince its distinguished guests that the island is safe and secure.

In order to call members of the village to an emergency gathering, a three to four meter high tower stands in the village in which two or three kulkuls (split wooden drums) are housed. These are beaten by pecalang in certain ways according to the message that needs to be communicated; all villagers know the codes for fire, theft, riot and other emergency situations. Neighboring villages also respond to a village’s cry for help by beating their kulkuls in the appropriate fashion. The drums function as both intra and inter-village broadcasting.

This traditional, organizational tool is made from selected wood such as jackfruit tree, orange tree, and other hard trees, while those made of bamboo are only for temporary use. Kulkul can be seen as a ‘symbol of organization’ in Balinese society and has changed very little over the millennium despite the presence of telephone, and radio as the most effective means of communication.

Today with the disappearance of a village organization due to rapid development, the number of kulkul are slowly decreasing. More work in the rice field tends to be sub-contracted or given to paid workers based on a daily fee. In the highlands, many temporary organizations have also subsided with the absence of seasonal rice planting. The land is used to plant longer life fruits or other crops, which are expected to give greater economic value.

England and Australia are currently interested in studying the Balinese security system, particularly related to the role of the Balinese pecalang. This follows a formal request from representatives of the United Kingdom and Australia to the Bali branch of Kesbangpolinmas (Public Protection Agency) to provide information about the ‘security system’ in Bali and how it could be studied.

The two governments are now planning to send representatives to Bali to study the Balinese security system first hand. Head of Bali Kesbangpolinmas, Gede Jaya Suartama stated that in terms of security technology, the UK and Australia are very advanced, but these developed countries are keen to build a community-based security system like the one in Bali to encourage community awareness.

“They are interested in studying the traditional security systems, and how pecalang can synergize with government security forces as well as have the force of law known as awig-awig (customary law) at a village level”, he explained.

Suartama added that Bali also has lot to learn from the UK and Australia in counter-terrorism expertise, and expects a fruitful partnership of information and knowledge-exchange in the field of security in the future. An interesting example of how the cultures of East and West often learn from each other.

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