The 1906 Badung Puputan
Thursday, February 6, 2014
Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

The world of the theatre state that we described in our last post came to a brutal end with the final annexation of Bali by the Dutch in 1908. The ritual suicides (Puputan, from the Balinese word puput meaning ‘finishing’ or ‘ending’) that took place as a consequence of the Dutch annexation of Bali are one of the less well known atrocities induced by European colonialism.

According to Robert Pringle’s A Short History of Bali, they led to 1,100 deaths (p. 106). The most notorious of these took place as the invading Dutch approached Denpasar, the capital of the pre-colonial state of Badung.

Pringle quotes a contemporary account of the carnage that this created (p. 104)

As they drew closer, they observed a strange, silent procession emerging from the main gate of the puri. It was led by the Radja himself, seated in his state palanquin carried by four bearers, dressed in white cremation garments but splendidly bejeweled and armed with a magnificent kris. The Radja was followed by the officials of his court, the armed guards, the priests, his wives, his children and his retainers, likewise dressed in white, flowers in their hair….One hundred paces from the startled Dutch, the Rajda halted his bearers, stepped from his palanquin, gave the signal, and the ghastly ceremony began. A priest plunger his dagger into the Radja’s breast, and others in the company began turning their daggers upon themselves or upon one another. The Dutch troops, startled into action by a stray gunshot and reacting to attack by lance and spear, directed rifle and even artillery fire into the surging crowd. Some of the women mockingly threw jewels and gold coins to the soldiers, and as more and more people kept emerging from the palace gate, the mounds of corpses rose higher and higher. Soon to the scene of the carnage was added the spectacle of looting as the soldiers stripped the valuables from the corpses and then set themselves to sacking the palace ruins.

Not quite the ‘civilizing mission’.

Geertz commented on this as follows

the king and court again paraded, half entranced, half dazed with opium, out of the palace into the reluctant fire of the by now thoroughly bewildered Dutch troops. It was quite literally the death of the old order. It expired as it had lived: absorbed in a pageant.

Article originally appeared on Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson (http://whynationsfail.com/).
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