Religious Tradition or Financial Burden?

By Nick Lewis
Kiva Fellows 10th Class–Bali, Indonesia

As you drive through the small village of Blimbingsari in northwest Bali, you immediately notice two things; the first is that this is a Christian village, of note because Bali is 94% Hindu, 5% Muslim and only 1% Christian. In fact, this is the largest Christian community in Bali. The second thing you notice is that the homes in Blimbingsari appear to be in much better condition than those of neighboring villages. They are all brick or cement, have ceramic-tile roofs and attractive paint-jobs, and many even have flower gardens in front, while those in adjacent villages often have mud floors and are of thatch construction in various states of disrepair.

On a recent visit to the branch office of Koperasi Mitra Usaha Kecil, I asked Kiva Coordinator Pak Zeruya Lesmana why the difference between housing in Blimbingsari and the neighboring villages was so dramatic. “I don’t know for sure,” he said, “but I think maybe it is because the other villages are Hindu so they must use their money for ceremonies.” I have been living on Bali now for five months and have grown very accustom to seeing the Balinese Hindus of the region on their way to various temples and ceremonies, but never did I think that this might somehow be a financial burden. Balinese Hindus have regular ceremonies at numerous temples around their homes and work. Some temples are associated with an individual family compound while others are associated with a rice field, a farm or a business. Balinese Hindus place offerings at these temples on a monthly, weekly or sometimes daily basis. There are also very large ceremonies that take place approximately every six months and require more elaborate ceremonies and thus are more expensive.

After this conversation I asked a few Kiva borrowers about the financial implications these ceremonies have on them and their families. Wayan Winarti, who works as a travelling food saleswoman, says that it is not too much of a burden for her. Each day she purchases 400,000 IDR (approximately $40) worth of instant noodles and snacks and then travels on her motorbike to smaller villages and hamlets and sells them. On a good day, she can make as much as 90,000 IDR (appx. $9) in profit. With this money, she says she can easily afford the 4000 IDR ($0.40) she spends each day on offerings and has no trouble saving up for the larger 500,000 IDR ($50) offerings required of her every six months. Ni Nengah Ngalis, on the other hand, says that the offerings are burdensome given her financial standing. She sells palm sugar and can only make $2 per day in profit. Ni Nengah can only afford to make a weekly offering that costs her approximately $0.70, and must carefully save her money to afford the larger ceremonies. Given the significance of these ceremonies, both religiously and socially, neither woman admits to wishing they could stop paying for the required offerings, but it is clear that the financial obligations are burdensome for some. While I in no way intend to question the value or significance of these ceremonies, one must question whether the money spent on daily offerings and ceremonies would be better spent on food, education or housing needs. This is a question of faith and philosophy that goes far beyond this forum, but I would be interested in hearing your comments.

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