'At the deepest core of your being how you value things is always reflected in the clear light of truth.'
It is generally proven that dogs are excellent barometers when it comes to reading the truth of human nature. Their ability to map human intention, behaviour and future actions, even before their dim-witted bipedal masters have even thought about it, is uncannily accurate. Your average pampered pooch, even with an overwhelming array of luxury and distraction, can scent out an ill willed Homosapien without much trouble. The nose is where it all happens, incoming signals set off hypersensitive identifications in the form of virtual smell vision feedback, chemical sighted snout sight.
And then there are the elite agents when it comes to sniffing out human hormonal driven intents thoughts and actions. Street Dogs are the ultimate readers.
There is a terrible cost associated with such an instinctive edge, a gift that keeps every canine street dweller adrenaline twitchy and robs them of uninterrupted slumber and fearless dreams.
Observing these incredible readers of human behaviour is becoming more difficult as their stage is being eroded rapidly. Their ability to unmask and instantly uncover the truth of our ugly intent is being messed up and bombarded by an avalanche of stimuli that not only confuses but destroys the cues that not so long ago where transparent to these amazing beings.
On Bali, India, Nepal and those global locations where street dog numbers are diminishing, a silent genocide of ancient instinct is vanishing and along with its loss is the reality that the cost to us is so much more than the relationship.
'At the deepest core of our being and in the clear light of truth we are truly reflecting what we ultimately value.'
On the thick furry back of a recent announcement that the iconic Kintamani dog has received international recognition that in effect affords it Protect, Promote, Preserve status, what, if anything, can their local short coated street relatives take from the very well deserved news?
Being popular doesn’t give you automatic protection, especially when your presence has been so widespread that your uniqueness is not seen at all. Consider that the Kintamani dog is generally isolated to a small highland area and has a colourful mythical story/fable attached to its history. Marketing, knowingly or unknowingly, of the Kintamani dog, has added value to their story and money in the pockets of those who have realized that there’s a demand for their uniqueness.
For the Bali Street dog competing with the Kintamani dog is a no winner. The Kintamani is a ‘beautiful’ canine. It’s a spit away from being a full-blown Spitz breed and given its lineage, both mythical and proven, it’s in very good company. But, mythology and genetics aside, it is not a Chow Chow, nor is it an Akita. It’s a unique breed isolated to a small highland region on a mystical Island. And that’s what makes them very sought after.
Unfortunately for their lowly relatives the Bali Street dog has a greater population and is seen in most island wide locations, even as their numbers are being severely reduced. Herein resides the unavoidable truth as to one of the reasons for the blasé approach in how this ‘First Island Dog’ is in many ways reviled not revered. Everything ugly, from the virulent terrifying rabies virus and diseased emaciated images are attached to the lowly short haired street dog. No amount of publicity about their plight has helped; it can actually be argued that saturation of ‘sick’ and ‘abused’ material has in fact hurt their image. They are the only old original dog on a very small space that’s up against every other newly introduced canine and are the most unwanted.
Taking them off the Island has turned into a business opportunity for a growing number of savvy transport agencies and as the amount of rescue organizations grow the need for Balinese people to recognize and take care of their dog is being circumvented by good intentions. Manoj Gautam recently reflected on a similar situation occurring with street dogs in his home country of Nepal. In his social media post he purports the responsibility for sustainable welfare outcomes for local dogs needs to sit with local people.
It’s beyond time that the Balinese people took responsibility for the dogs of Bali.
Empathy, derived from the Greek word “empatheia,” meaning “affection,” bonds with our conscience to act as compassion’s compass in our relationships. It is the foundation for ethical behavior. Without empathy, we cannot suffer with, or for, others.
Empathy is felt and expressed differently in individuals and in cultures. In collective cultures empathy manifests differently to that within individualistic cultures. Even within those different cultures, individuals will exhibit different levels of empathy or not at all.
The evidence is already established that beings other than human suffer because of things that are done to them or happen around them. What’s also unfortunately real and documented is the extent to which humans do not believe or accept the reality of animal sentience.
Influencing human behavior change to improve the welfare of a societies animals is often tackled through providing education, particularly to children. In collective societies the value of this tool is diluted as children will typically not act, or react, as individuals. Despite what they have been taught they will respond to situations as part of their cultural collective.
Educating adults to feel empathy for another living being is fairly impossible. Often the only way to influence adult behavior is by applying an unpleasant consequence, via law, to an undesired action. Laws then become an educational tool that teach citizens to think twice before engaging in a behavior that is not acceptable to that society.
In a collective culture like Bali you can provide education until the last dog howls but the cultural conditioning that creates the collective disbelief of animal sentience needs to be taken into account when attempting to influence behavior change.
Bali dogs are the silent subject in this ongoing matter. Their continued existence is quite unimportant on an island that’s more interested in many other things. There is no statistical evidence yet to show how education has improved the lot of the average Bali dog. In fact anecdotal evidence, if one can trust the plethora of social media reporting, shows that after years of educating local people welfare for Bali dogs is either stagnant or going backwards.
On Bali Island with its unique form of Hinduism and multifaceted multi leveled existence, life for a dog is dictated by reality and religion. Are laws the only way to curb cruelty?
However, Bali runs on its own rules and that’s what is so attractive to many millions of visiting foreigners. There is a very long way to go and history may just prove that no matter how much education was offered, how much welfare was modelled and how much law was enacted, educating foreigners about where the Bali dog sits in the reality of life on Bali is the only acceptable outcome.
One of the many actions synonymous with Bali dogs is their propensity to open their mouths and bark, a lot. One of the many things that really annoy humans about them is their voice. Bali dogs are predisposed to engage in open mouth loud vocalizations. Their need to do so goes so much deeper than to just simply piss people off.
Unfortunately the attention span and interest of humans as to the rationale behind dog to dog communication is as shallow as the swim up bar at your average holiday resort. One of the many reasons why Bali dogs are no longer seen around tourist areas is the overwhelming evidence that fly in fly out tourists demand that pollution in furry form be silenced.
As bad as that is, dependent on how you view it, it’s a reality that if isolated to those areas can be mitigated by stable/increasing numbers elsewhere on the island. Unfortunately that’s not the case and as island Bali continues to develop its tourist attractions the future for a very vocal canine is unavoidably unfavourable.
One of the many things about a local Bali dog is their ancient intelligence that has allowed them to survive traditionally intact. One of the deficits to that bloodline strength is their tenacity to continue doing what has enabled them to get this far.
Barking is not a choice for a Bali dog. Barking is their way of fulfilling their purpose. Barking is their complex language designed to protect alert and awaken human and animal to their warnings and the presence of seen and unseen forces.
They have been doing this long before tourists arrived. Its hoped they will continue to fulfil their historical destiny as development spreads
Raising your blood pressure is not one of their ancient aims. Raising your awareness will ensure their survival.
Early morning walks anywhere in the world are one of the very best methods for getting a real feel for how life unfolds on a daily basis.
Bali is a tropical island so heat and humidity dictate peak times of activity. Add a belief in a unique island isolated Hinduism and a culture thousands of years old and rich in rituals and patterns. Throw in a society that retains a need for open air fruit vegetable and livestock market places and you have a perfect recipe for a sensory filled early morning amble.
For those interested in witnessing how the human dog interaction plays out, early mornings are the optimum time to observe Bali dogs doing their thing. Late in the afternoon just before sunset is also another perfect space of time to observe a more relaxed version of morning busy time.
Moving parallel to their humans they can be seen exiting their family compounds and scouting their designated area. Each dog has its own space that it patrols and guards against any unknown intruder(s). These are professional working dogs, not pampered pets. It’s not unusual as morning moves on to see dogs gathering around food carts and outside lokal warungs looking for scraps or discarded food. Bali dogs have historically survived on whatever is dropped or left behind, another reason why one of their jobs as garbage disposal units is vitally important to their community.
One of the many joys of being actively able to walk through lokal areas as morning breaks is watching Bali people going about their everyday routine business and their dogs going about their everyday routine business without either party even knowing that they balance each other without it being a big deal at all.
Appearance of dogs on the island of Bali has been naturally occurring for thousands of years. Close observation of their activity has only been a serious action in the last few decades. Before then they were just part of the background shadow play that fills the flow on this mystical Hindu island.
A government loosening of importation laws in response to mass foreigner arrivals saw non local dogs flow across porous borders. On the back of this change Bali dogs became an increasingly interesting and unique phenomenon. It’s as if they, as a thing, had only just manifested, instead of being here from whenever that beingness began.
The Bali people-dog relationship is seriously unique in the context of its island isolated reality. Yet when other ancient indigenous cultures are examined in regard to their human-dog historical relationship the Bali relationship differs very little. In those historical periods no great thought was given or intellectual energy expelled when it came to the relationship; dogs had their place as all things had within the order of subsistence village societies. That past mindset is still presently current, how could it not. The Bali dog and/or their relationship to/with Bali people was a no big thing, it just was/is.
It was not until this latest round of colonization swamped the island that a spotlight was shone upon the relationship.
Fueled by a turbo driven economy, foreigners descended and moved into traditionally stable areas upending generations of island viewpoints. Apart from bringing money they also brought a worldview that continues to be completely foreign to a majority of Balinese. Bali dogs were and continue to be a perfect emotional drawcard for an increasing number of foreigners.
There is very little naturally occurring in those areas where little Bali has become big Australia or any number of other foreigner resident locales. The phenomenon of Bali dogs free roaming in and through those areas is unheard and unseen.
As a ballooning economy continues to expand, more and more traditional areas are submitting to inevitable unavoidable realities, changes that come with such historical economic movements. More families have less dogs and status value has replaced utility value. Knowledge of how to care for foreign things is proving difficult for a society that hasn’t dealt with so many foreign viewpoints/philosophies. When it comes to dogs, everything to do with foreign dog care is the antithesis of their view.
On an island where the future will continue to pin cultures literally on top of cultures the dog-human relationship will ‘need’ to unfold on the basis of welfare law.
As that battle will be fought on solid ground the only Naturally Occurring Phenomenon will continue to be the human made plastic invasion that washes ashore on the islands seasonal waves.
The sun hasn’t even risen in a typical village of Bali. A wife in one compound opened her eyes. She looked at her two children and her husband who were asleep next to her. She looked at the ceiling and think,
“What should I cook today?” “Oh it is a school fee payday,” “Need to prepare for Galungan,” “Wait, need to go to neighbor to help her with upcoming Ngaben ceremony,” “Did the electricity has paid off?” “Need to tell husband to fix the roof, rainy season is coming,” “Wait there is nothing in the fridge to cook, market now.”
And many, many more thoughts, a check list for the day, an endless checklist.
A black and white Bali Dog curled up in front of the house and she clearly has scratched the front mat a little to make herself warmer, a natural instinct of survival. She heard the rooster screaming his lungs out; her ears were moving, but her body is so intact, her tail touched her nose. She wanted another 5 minutes.
The Bali wife also needs 5 more minutes, especially after big long ceremony in the temple that just finished last night. But she can’t. She needed to wake up or the checklist she just designed in her head will be ruined and fly out of the window.
So she stretched and got up, washed her face and got ready to the market. She opened the door and Duduk, her lovely Bali Dog waited in front of the door. She got up soon after she heard the door unlocked. She didn’t need her five minutes anymore, her favorite person was here and she was ready to guard her anywhere.
She looked like she was about to go somewhere, thought Duduk.
The wife walked out of the house with her dog on the side. She patted her head slowly and walked 5 minutes to the market. Duduk was there, next to her, sometimes she ran to her dog friends, had a little zoomies to warm her up in a cold morning. But she always comes back to her person.
Once she got back from the market, there went the chores. House, kid’s school, big family, neighbor, banjar (village community), temple, ceremonies and offerings. A-Z. Everything.
A Bali wife is the rock of the house. Imagine a life without them managing the Balinese household. Imagine the burden that was put on her shoulder by society. Or on any Balinese women that will become mothers, or someone’s wife. Anything wrong with the house, the kids, the husband. The wife will be put to blame. They mostly out of time to be herself. They do not have time to empower herself, to develop, to treat the mental burden they are having every day. They just serve, and most of times don’t get what they deserve. Any appreciation. Love and attention.
A Bali Dog, are having an exactly the same problem. Their loyalty and service are less appreciated. And maybe, that is one thing that our society has been built up to. “It is just the way it is. No questions asked. It is just the role, it is the nature.”
The nature of Bali Dog is a working dog, and their work is versatile based on the type of household where they were raised. A Bali dog who was raised in a farmer family will know their people’s schedule to go to the farm, or rice field. The one who was raised in fisherman’s family would not be scared of water or even the waves. A Bali Dog, who was raised in priest’s house, will know how to behave with many people coming to the house and stay still during mantra puja from his person.
They adapted, adjusted our family routine. They are not indoor dog; they belong outside in the yard where they can get up to chase rats, cats or burglars, anytime. They are free soul. They could not be contained. And most importantly, as the Bali wives, they just serve.
What will happen when Bali Dogs are not able to do this anymore? What is a Balinese household without a Bali Dog? It is just a household. There is no specialty, nothing to distinguish us to any household in the world. Their antics are what make Bali, Bali. It is very sad to see Bali Dogs are getting less and less appreciated. They are one important element in Balinese household. They are the rock along with the Bali wives.
A Bali Dog is a Bali kid’s first friend, the first one who taught them about loving animals. They can be clown to the family, they protect the family. Waiting for the husband to come home from work and walking alongside the wife to get to destination safely. Waiting for any leftover meal and staying in the kitchen whenever there is a cooking activity.
It is something that can’t be bought and never been taught. It is something that occurred naturally, as the thousands of years they spent to learn Balinese routine, character and behavior.
Something that we should not take for granted, something that should be more appreciated, protected and preserved.
A shout out to all Bali wives who thrive every day to manage the house with patience, love and integrity. And for the Bali Dogs who always stay beside them, ready to serve.
If we seek to understand why a community behaves in certain ways towards their dog population, we must first look at those animals through the lens of that community’s world view. The power of an ancient canid – human bond, is easily misunderstood but is not to be underestimated. For many ancient cultures, dogs were the first non-human animals who provided companionship; they helped with hunting; they learned to understand basic human speech in order to respond to commands and they actually answered back when yelled at. (Rose, 2011). These traits and their ability to interact with humans have inserted them into a unique place in the structure of society, somewhere between non-human and human.
These bonds have seen humans and canids travelling together over thousands of years. Indeed, the Bali dog has travelled alongside her people, and has borne witness to attempts at colonization, war, natural tragedy etc. etc. The Bali dog has not sat as a neutral observer to these events but has been subjected to the same processes as her people, if not with the same consequences. She has, in the Australian Aboriginal sense of the term, borne witness.
This witnessing together, of monumental world altering changes, the closeness of cohabitation, the necessity of sharing time, space and food has generated a bond between the Bali dog and her people. Musharbash (2017), suggests that this human-canid long-term co-residency and the familiarity it brings can manifest in the characteristics and social practices found in any society where humans and canines co-evolved. The Bali dog’s unique ability to remember you no matter how long ago you met; their innate proficiency in seeing you coming long before you see them and capacity to amass in large number’s when action occurs within their Banjar are just some skills that are definitely reflected in her people and community.
These ancient connections and reciprocal behaviour is summed up precisely by Ojoade (2003) in his observation that the role of the dog in Nigerian culture, his culture, is considerably more important than the role held in Western cultures, as Western cultures generally lack dog lore.
Understanding another’s world view does not signify an acceptance of that world view. It is simply an appreciation, an acknowledgment of difference and a point at which conversations can start.
Musharbash, Y., 2017. Telling Warlpiri Dog Stories. Anthropological Forum, 27(2), pp. 95-113.
Ojoade, 2003. Signifying Animals. s.l.:Routledge.
Rose, D. B., 2011. Wild Dog Dreaming. Love and Extincion. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.
Watching the sun rise over the peak of Mount Batur, waiting for that magical moment when the clouds part and the vast caldera comes into view – is an experience that can make you appreciate just why this entire highlands area is sacred country to the Balinese. The area of Kintamani is the land of Bali Aga. These Indigenous people of Bali share a sacred bond with their land and its spiritual inhabitants. Spending time on this country embodies you with a sense of the spirit and energy that is sometimes lost in the shadows of the more famous low-lying kingdoms of Southern Bali (Reuter 2002).
Heading north from the caldera viewing point, taking the road less travelled by day trippers and scene seekers you come to a narrow, winding roadway, densely lined by forest on both sides. The gradual ascent steepens suddenly, and rounding a sharp bend, you enter Desa Sukawana, a designated Kintamani pure zone (Madanir 2018).
It is hard not to be taken aback by the number of free roaming, thick coated, short eared, fuzzy tailed Kintamani Dogs. They stroll along the roadside, gather in clusters alongside warungs and lift their muzzles in a threatening growl to the incoming strangers. In the middle of this village is a large plinth on the top of which sits a stone statue of a Dog. A plaque reads ‘Banjar Sukawana, Home of the Kintamani Dog’.
This is believed to the birth place of the Bali Dog. It is here, during the twelfth century that King Jaya Pangus built a temple in honour of his beautiful Chinese princess bride, Kang Ching Wei. He called the area Balingkang to signify the union of the two countries and cultures. Local mythology describes the Princess bringing her Chinese Chow Chow dogs with her to live in her new home and it is from these dogs that the Kintamani dog has descended (Muthia 2018).
Genetically, the short haired Bali Street Dog carries DNA markers from the Kintamani, and no one really knows which one came to the Island first (Puja et al. 2005). However, leaving aside the debate about what came first, the Kintamani, or the short haired Bali Dog, this is a place of significance for the Bali Aga and those of us outsiders who admire and respect the Bali Dog be they the short or long haired variety.
Madanir, R 2018, Bali's Kintamani Dogs seek global recognition.
Muthia, R 2018, How Bali’s Chinese were accepted and integrated into island society – in contrast to other parts of Indonesia.
Puja, I, K, Schaffer, A, L, Irion, D, N & Pedersen, N, C 2005, “The Kintamani Dog: Genetic Profile of an Emerging Breed from Bali, Indonesia’, Journal of Heredity , vol.96, no. 7, pp. 854-859.
Reuter, T 2002, Custodians of the Sacred Mountains, Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press .
As creators of this website we have been asked on many occasions how we reconcile respecting Balinese beliefs with our awareness of sentience. Especially when it involves cruelty and general mistreatment inflicted on Bali Dogs.
Simply put, there is no reconciling, no justification and no defending any act that inflicts pain. Cruelty is universal and Bali is certainly more than able in delivering its very own local brand. Respecting a belief system that does not demonstrate awareness of sentience is nigh on impossible.
What we do is acknowledge that there is a relationship between Balinese people and their indigenous canine. It does not look or feel like pet ownership in the Western cultural context, but there is a relationship. Just because something doesn't look or feel like the familiar its not OK to dismiss its existence. The Westernised pet ownership framework cannot and should not hold itself up as being the ideal.
As long term appreciators of dogs and the contribution they have made to our lives we are eternally curious about what a dog looks like through a different cultural lens. We are interested in how different beliefs and values influence and shape the human/canine relationship. In Bali we have found a relationship that is ancient and bound in complex reciprocal utility and entrenched within the Islands unique belief system.
Beliefs are very real; they bring order to chaos, they are concrete cultural anchors, passed from generation to generation. They help us to navigate our world.
From words, statements and stories, our societal structures are formed. These structures have to be respected even if they conflict with our own beliefs. Acknowledgement of these structures, without judgement, is the first step towards understanding, communicating and then negotiating human behaviour change.
To do otherwise is like asking us to speak a foreign language without lessons. We can learn to survive among native speakers, but we will not be able to converse deeply and appreciate those subtle nuances so vital to understanding issues that matter.
By understanding the nuances of the dog/human relationship in Bali, by appreciating its history and by grasping its complexities we have an opportunity to converse and influence change.