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secure in Bali

When it comes to big events in Bali, the Island of Gods has its own traditions of safeguarding events, with local authorities involving what are locally known as pecalang - traditional Balinese security personnel. The upcoming PrepComm IV in Nusa Dua, Bali is no exception. Bali's Police Head Budi Setiawan has confirmed the planned participation of Balinese pecalang in ensuring the safety of Bali along with local security apparatus. The involvement of pecalang has been cited as contributing to Bali's good reputation as tourist destination.

The planned involvement of pecalang was revealed when the chief of Police was recently interviewed by the state-owned television station TVRI, when he noted that pecalang have had an important role in Bali for hundreds of years.

Pecalang were created to maintain the security of the village. In practice, they work hand in hand with hansip (security officers of the administrative village). In order to call members of the village for an emergency, 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 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 therefore function as both intra and inter-village broadcasting.

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 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 and harmony. These sarongs can be seen in numerous ceremonies and on statues throughout Bali. The positioning of the kris dagger at the back also represents the pecalang's approach to peace-keeping - persuasive and passive rather than aggressive.

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 apparatus, in which pecalang, hansip and village heads all play an important part, by ensuring that migrants register with the village banjar where they take up residence.

Other major events in which pecalang play 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.

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 in terms 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.


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