SNEAK PEEK INSIDE Horrible History: Mass Suicides

The Badung Puputan
Bali
20 September 1906  

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The Badung Puputan, 1906

In the 17th century, the Dutch began to set up trading posts throughout Bali. Originally, the relationship was solely trade-based but the Dutch admired Bali’s beauty and later set out to colonize the island. By the 1890s, after many years of war, the Dutch had taken control of the majority of Bali; Only the southern Balinese regencies of Tabanan, Klungkung, and Badung still refused to submit to Dutch rule. Despite sending a great number of troops to southern Bail in an attempt to enforce their control over the island, the Dutch were waiting for one of the three kingdoms to provoke them before staging a full-assault.
On May 27, 1905 a Chinese-owned ship called the ‘Sri Kumala’ wrecked on the Sanur Reef, approximately six kilometers (four miles) from the kingdom of Badung, located in modern-day Denpasar. The Balinese people worshiped the sea deity Batara Baruna; They believed the contents of wrecked ships were a gift from the gods and therefore, had a tradition of plundering them.
After Badung locals took copper and silver coins from the Sri Kumala, the ship’s owner complained to Dutch rulers and coerced the government into declaring a blockage on Badung. The owner of the Sri Kumala demanded that the Raja of Badung return the valuables taken from the ship or offer compensation. In response, the Dutch claimed indemnity of 7,500 florins from Gusti Gede Ngurah Denpasar, the Raja of Badung. Raja Ngurah was extremely insulted by the insinuation that his people had stolen the treasure when in their eyes, it was a gift from Batara Baruna. After the Rajah refused to pay, the Dutch sent troops to Badung to arrest the him at his palace.
On September 14, 1906 the Sixth Military Expedition of the Royal Dutch East Indies Army landed on the coast of Bali but it would be a long journey to reach Badung. First, troops passed through Kesiman and found that the local Raja, a vassal of Badung, had been killed by his own priest who had plunged a kris into his heart; The palace at Kesiman was in flames and the village had been deserted.
In Balinese culture this act is known as a ‘Puputan’, literally meaning “ending” or “finish”; It is considered to be the greatest sacrifice a Raja can make on behalf of their subjects. In lieu of surrendering to an enemy, when ‘Puputan’ is declared, the Raja is killed by the village priest in a ritualistic suicide which is then often followed by a fight to the death. The subjects will not only brutally kill the enemy during a Puputan, but also kill one another and themselves, until there is no one left alive. Participants in Puputan use a Kris, a traditional Indonesian dagger with an asymmetrical blade, to carry out the mass suicide. Krisses are believed to each have their own individual ‘essence’, bringing good or bad luck to the weapon’s owner. The act of Puputan was quite common in Bali between the years 1894-1908.
After reaching Kesiman, Dutch forces continued moving inland without encountering much resistance. When they reached kingdom of Tabanana, local Raja Gusti Ngurah and his son fled the kingdom but eventually surrendered. The two attempted to negotiate a settlement, offering to submit to colonization, but Dutch troops refused this offer. Instead, Gusti Ngurah and his son were given the option of exile to either Madura or Lombok. Two days after their surrender, Ngurah and his son decided to commit suicide in a display of Puputan. Afterwards, the palace at Tabanan was looted and destroyed by Dutch troops.
Knowing the enemy would soon arrive in Badung, Raja Denspar ordered the burning of the kingdom sometime late in the evening of September 19th, or in the very early morning hours September 20thth. As the troops approached the palace on the morning of September 20th, all they hear were the sounds of ominous drumming coming from within the palace walls. The Badung people opened the gates of their village and the approximate population of 1,100 marched out to meet the Dutch troops; All were dressed in traditional white cremation robes, carrying their krises as well as jewels, coins and other valuables in anticipation of the Puputan. The Raja, riding in a palanquin, lead the suicidal procession.
Upon reaching Dutch troops, the ritual mass suicide began. The Raja stepped down from his palanquin and gave his priest a signal, at which point the priest plunged his kris into the heart of Raja Denspar. The entire procession then began killing themselves and one another. Dutch troops were so shocked, one soldier accidentally fired his gun, which prompted the Badung people to descend upon them in an ultimate fight to the death, brutally slaying as many Dutch soldiers with their krises as possible. Some Badungs were shot and killed by the Dutch in the battle; All the while, others continued committing suicide and killing their own people, including children and infants. Women began mockingly throwing jewels and coins at the Dutch troops. According to the troops who witnessed the event, the Badung people appeared to be half-dazed with opium during the macabre display. All Badungs, aside from a few infants that survived, died in the Puputan that day; The majority died by their own hand. The Badung mass suicide was so shocking and disturbing to the Dutch that most were completely traumatized by the event. Dr. Van Weede, a Dutch observer describes the horrors he witnessed:

“The ruler and the princes with their followers, dressed in their glittering attire, with their krises girded on, of which the golden hilts were in the form of Buddha statues and studded with precious stones: all of them were dressed in red or black and their hair was carefully combed, moistened with fragrant oils. The women were wearing the best clothes and accessories that they had; most of them wore their hair loose and all had white cloaks. The prince had his palace burned down and had everything that was breakable destroyed.
When at nice o’clock it was reported to him that the enemy had penetrated Denpasar from the North, the tragic procession of 250 people started to move; each man and woman carried a kris or long lance, also the children who had the strength to do it, while the babies were carried in their arms. Thus they walked to the north along the wide road bordered by tall trees, meeting their destruction.
The prince walked in front, carried on the shoulders by his followers according to custom, and silently…. until all of sudden, at a turning in the road, the dark line of our infantry was visible before them. Immediately a halt was commanded and Captain Schutstal ordered the interpreters to summon the arriving party to a halt with gestures and with words. However these summons were in vain, and in spite of the repeated warnings the Balinese went over to a trot.
Incessantly the Captain and the interpreters made signs, but it was in vain. Soon they had to realize that they had to do with people who wanted to die. They let them approach to a hundred paces, eighty, seventy paces, but now they went over to a double quick step with couched lances and raised krises, the prince always in front.
A longer delay would have been irresponsible in view of the safety of our men, and the first salvo was given; several killed men remained at the place. One of the first to fall was the ruler; and now one of the most horrible scenes one could imagine took place. While those who were saved continued the attack, and the shooting on our part for self-defense remained necessary, one saw lightly wounded give the death-blow to the heavily wounded. Women held out their breasts to be killed or received the death blow between their shoulders, and those who did this were mowed down by our rifle fire, other men and women got up to continue the bloody work. Also suicides took place there on a big scale, and all seemed to yearn for their death: some women threw as a reward for the violent death which they desired from them gold coins to the soldiers, and stood straight up in front of them, pointing at their heart, as if they wanted to be hit there; if no shot was fired they killed themselves. Especially an old man was busily stepping over the corpses, and used his kris left and right until he was shot down. An old woman took his task and underwent the same fate, however, nothing helped. Always others got up to continue the work of destruction.”

Later that same day, Dutch troops witnessed horrific events once more in the nearby village of Pemacutan when Gusti Gede Ngurah Pemacutan, the co-ruler of Badung, and his people staged a nearly identical Puputan as the one which had occurred in Badung.

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