Researchers from the Institute of Indonesian Studies have conducted a detailed study of a small stone relief located in the village of Singaraja, in the northern part of the Indonesian island of Bali. The relief is found in the complex of Pura Maduwe Karang, an important Hindu temple in the area dating back to the 17th century.

According to stylistic analysis, it is estimated that this particular piece was carved by local artisans in the late 19th century, during the peak of Dutch colonial rule over the island.

It depicts the figure of a Balinese man riding a bicycle, dressed in the typical traditional attire of Balinese culture.

Through the methodology known as “iconological analysis,” scholars have managed to decipher various meanings and historical and cultural implications present in this simple scene.

By examining the character’s clothing and posture, researchers determined that it was a Balinese civilian and not a Dutch colonizer. However, the most striking aspect is that this native man is using a means of transportation entirely foreign to traditional Balinese culture: a bicycle.

This demonstrates how Balinese society began to adopt and incorporate new technologies from the West under colonial rule. Nevertheless, the preservation of indigenous clothing also reflects the persistence of local roots and customs.

In other words, this small relief synthetically captures the complex process of cultural hybridization that characterized the interaction between European colonizers and subjected populations during the imperialist era.

It was a time of rapid changes and mutual influences but also of identity resistance. Colonized peoples adopted foreign innovations, albeit without completely abandoning their age-old traditions.

The relief constitutes a valuable archaeological testimony of these times and reveals nuances that escape written or oral sources. It allows glimpses into the tensions between modernization and cultural identity that marked the transition to new social paradigms.

Researchers expanded the analysis by studying historical contexts and sociological dynamics specific to colonial Bali. Through archival documentation, they determined that the spread of bicycles on the island occurred precisely during the period indicated by the relief, confirming its chronological accuracy.

They also cross-referenced oral sources describing the initial distrust of the Balinese towards such a modern mode of transportation and how its use eventually prevailed for practical reasons despite cultural resistance.

In this way, a multidisciplinary study allowed a humble archaeological discovery to become a window into Bali’s colonial past, providing valuable insights into cultural hybridization in politically dominated areas. The analysis continues to yield information about the history and identity of this rich Indonesian human heritage.


Sources

Putra, I. D. A. D. and Abdullah, S., Iconological Analysis of the “Man on a Bicycle” Relief in North Bali Created During the Dutch Colonial Period. Journal of the SEAMEO Regional Centre for Archaeology and Fine Arts, vol 7 (2023). doi.org/10.26721/spafajournal.a759ql83r8


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