Why do people honk their horns when approaching bridges in Bali?

We all know that locals love to honk their horns for pretty much whatever reason on the roads in Bali, but there is one unseen reason that not many people understand.

It’s no secret that Balinese are seriously superstitious, much like most other cultures in the world were only a century or so ago. In fact just 20 years ago my nana in New Zealand was known to still throw salt over her shoulder or wear garlic or onion amulets to ward off the unseen baddies.

You’ll find that in most cultures, bridges are considered to be fertile grounds for the nastier things that some believe hang out in the supernatural realm. In the West, it’s the troll under the bridge from the ‘Billy Goats Gruff’ tale; in Bali it is the gamut of manifestations that fall under the buta-kala (demons) or leyak (witches that appear as fireballs) categories.

Honking your horn when approaching a bridge is to let the spirits that lurk here know that you’re passing – kind of like saying “I’m passing, please don’t harm me” but with a vehicle horn. Indeed the honk is more like an “excuse me” rather than an explosive blast that   drivers here may use in anger!

Certainly not all Balinese will honk their horns when approaching a bridge, although the vast majority definitely do – whether they really believe it or not, it makes them feel secure that they’ve “got their bases covered” should there be anything sinister hiding in the depths.

My thoughts are that if only people paid more attention to the nastier and more life threatening stuff that is now found under all bridges in Bali: plastic trash. If every person who honked their horn also stopped littering and reducing the amount of plastic they  consume then Bali would be a much nicer place – even if dem trolls still lurk about under dem bridges!


By Vaughan Hatch

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