Prison in the midst of the ocean (Sidemen, 1984)

This is a summary of a presentation 'Penjara di tengah Samudra' given by Ida Bagus Sidemen in occasion of the 'Seminar Sejarah Lokal di Medan', 17-20 September 1984, under the auspices of the Departemen Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan. Direktorat Sejarah dan Nilai Tradisional, Proyek Inventarisasi dan Dokumentasi Sejarah Nasional, Jakarta 1984'.


Image right: Crystal Bay, Nusa Penida (Godi Dijkman, 2007)

The entire article presented in Medan was published in a magazine 'Analisis Kebudayaan', of unknown date, by the Perpustakaan Nasional Jakarta. Author Ida Bagus Sidemen based this article on his thesis 'Nusa Penida Dalam Seratus Tahun (studi tentang kasus pembuangan abad XIX)', Denpasar 2006. This book is not publicly for sale, but can be obtained directly from Ida Bagus Sidemen. English (summarised) translation by Godi Dijkman.

Dungeon in the Middle of the Ocean - Introduction

The first time Nusa Penida features in history is the Xth century. Raja Sri Kesari Warmadewa vanquishes the enemy on Nusa 'Gurun' (Nusa Penida). On a prasasti dated 913 AD at Blanjong (Sanur), for the first time there is reference, known so far, to Nusa Penida as 'Gurun' (R.Goris – Ancient History of Bali (Denpasar, Faculty of Letters Udayana University, 1965; p.9-11). In the XIth century relationships with Nusa Penida are maintained by Bandar Ujung from the village Ujung Hayang (Karangasem). Goods are traded and people sail [to Nusa Penida], is mentioned on a Prasasti from 1004 AD. Raja Udayana decided to exempt the village of Ujung Hayang of various taxes. Those planning to sail to Java or Gurun from Ujung Hayang harbour were no longer allowed to use the boats from this village (Roelof Goris – Prasasti Bali II, Bandung-Djakarta, Lembaga Bahasa dan Budaya, 1954, p.190).

The inhabitants of Nusa Penida for the first time started to resist the oppression from Bali during the Rajahdom of Kresna Kepakisan, who ruled from Gelgel (1380-1650). During the reign of Dalem Di Made (ca. 1650), Raja I Dewa Bungkut was attacked on Nusa Penida by Ki Gusti Jelantik who reestablished hegemony on the island. At this time Bali was divided in nine Rajahdoms, Nusa Penida was assigned as property of Dewa Agung Putra, a decision that was not contested by the other kingdoms. In this year, Raja Dalem Di Made of Gelgel had to defend himself against attacks by I Gusti Agung Maruti. This situation lasted until 1686 when I Dewa Agung Jambe managed to establish his Rajahdom in Klungkung as the 'successor' to the Kresna Kepakisan Dynasty. The other Rajahdoms were those of Buleleng, Mengwi, Payangan, Karangasem, Bangli, Badung, Tabanan and Gianyar. (C.C. Berg – De Middeljavaansche Historische Traditie De Geschiedenis van het Rijk Gelgel. (thesis), Leiden, no publisher, 1927, p.158-159)

One of the rulers on Nusa Penida, Ratu Gawang [probably Sawang, a spelling mistake which may be due to the similarity of Balinese characters for ‘sa-saga’ and ‘ga’], declared independence from Bali [year?]. He ruled the island of Nusa Penida from Bukit Mundi. Dalem Watu Renggong, the omnipotent ruler of Bali, sends a laskar to Nusa Penida led by Dukut Petak with the aim to break the power of Nusa Penida. (Lontar Sawangan (transcription), p.4a-6b )

The majority of Western writers refer to Nusa Penida as 'Bandieteneiland' (Karl Helbig – Noesa Penida. Het Bandieten Eiland (naskah), Gedong Kirtya Singaraja, nr. AI/344, passim; Claire Holt – Bandit Island, A short exploration Trip to Nusa Penida, in Jane Bello (ed.) Traditional Balinese Culture, New York London Columbia University Press 1970, p.76-84). Apparently, they presume that the islanders themselves or their descendants are bandits. Nusa Penida, no doubt, thanked this infamous reputation to the fact that it was an 'island of exiles'. Traditional sources mention, for instance, 'katundung' or 'tinundung' (Balinese for 'expelled'), other sources mention 'kutang' (Balinese for 'to cast away').

Source material research shows that Nusa Penida, being a part 0f the Klungkung Rajahdom, was used as a place of exile or as a prison for convicts. These convicts were not only from the Klungkung Rajahdom, but also from Gianyar and Bangli. Nusa Penida, thus, became a deportation colony. The period of banishment reached its peak between 1880 and 1900, as a consequence of the tension between the various Rajahdoms in Bali.

Nusa Penida as part of the Klungkung Rajahdom

The first Rajah of Klungkung was Dewa Agung Jambe. On Nusa Penida his authority was put in the hands of so-called Manca. The fifth ruler of Klungkung was Dewa Agung Putra Kusamba (ca. 1841-1849). He sent I Dewa Anak/Anom Gelgel as his representative to Nusa Penida. Gelgel had the status of Manca. Nusa Penida has a total surface area of 202,84 km2, almost twice as much as the area of Klungkung on mainland Bali. Nusa Penida: 191,48 km2; Ceningan: 2,26 km2; Lembongan: 8,68 km2. The name Penida in Balinese means 'Kapur Tohor' (dirty limestone/chalk). At the end of the XIXth, beginning XXth century, on the north and west coast, at Toyapakeh and Penida, there were large swamps. At the east side of Lembongan, too, there were swamps. Judging by the remaining vegetation and large trees on the island, it is evident that once the island was covered with large pristine forests. Today, there are still original patches of forest near the temples of Sa(h)ab and Bukit Mundi (Nusa Penida's nature has been described extensively by Soekardjo: “Noesa Penida. Een Misdeeld Eiland.” In Vamola 1931, p.1-33).

Why was Nusa Penida chosen as the island of exile?

1. Geographical situation: the draught and limestone and protracted dry seasons. These bitter circumstances on the island would enforce the punishment of banishment. 2. The distance between Nusa Penida and Bali: the convict was separated from his family and banished to Nusa Penida. The large straight (the distance from Bandar Mentigi to Kusamba = 18km), high waves and strong currents reduced the chances of escape. The only way of crossing the sea straight was by 'jukung' (small fishermen’s' proa) with 'jerupi' (heightened sides against the waves) and sail made of 'kaping' (=bagor?). 3. Black magic: the inhabitants of Nusa Penida believe that the island is the centre of black magic personified by Ratu Gede Mecaling. Twice a year, according to local beliefs, on 'bulan kenem' and 'bulan kelima' (November-December) Ratu together with his ethereal beings (Wong gamang, makhluk halus) asks for 'Talian' (taxes) to the sea gods. These taxes are paid in human offerings, mainly convicts with a death sentence and practitioners of black magic (people who used black magic as a means to commit crimes): Ndesti, Nyetik, Ngeleak. 4. Economic situation in the Klungkung Rajahdom. Many export products from Nusa Penida destined for Klungkung were of major importance to the Rajahdom: kacang merah, gaplak, corn, cattle and pigs, weft ikats, cepuk. The convicts were made forced labourers and had to work on pieces of land in order to prepare them for agriculture. This way, it was expected that the export of agricultural products would double in size.

Exile: how did it work?

From these investigations is has become evident that most of the exiled ended up in Batununggul (Lembongan), Ped, Batumadeg, Batukandik and Jungutbatu. It is important to look into the question of whether or not the exiled found themselves as being part of a social system (pranata sosial) on the island. There was a (1) normative system, i.e. a system, which manifests itself in a negative form that determines the behaviour of the members of this system; (2) a social system in which a group of people interact socially. This pranata sosial, the social system, shows in what way the exiled interact with the local population; (3) an organic system in which all people involved organically are a part of society, the geographical nature and the environment. Looking at this issue from this perspective it becomes clear to what extend the exiled influence the geography and the environment on Nusa Penida.

Categories of exiled on Nusa Penida

Political prisoners

Political prisoners (rebels, traitors to the mother country, spies). There were many of them, especially towards the end of the XIXth century, as a direct consequence of the struggle between the various Rajahdoms for hegemony in Bali. The uprising in Gianyar Rajahdom (1884) led by Cokorda Negara: a number of political 'pesakitan' were banished to Nusa Penida. Some of the exiled were granted freedom after two years, others were sentenced for life. At the same time the noble Cokorda Rai Sanggul from Pejeng (Gianyar) was exiled together with his wife and children because of treason (penghianatan). Anak Agung Made Sangging from ‘kemancaan’ Sukawati (Gianyar) was banished as well, also because of treason.


Debtors, people who did not pay their taxes (piutang), or who hadn't settled their (police?) fines, etc. Punishments of three to twelve months and sometimes even for life were given legally based on the Paswara, the so-called Ordinances or Laws (e.g. Paswara Catur Negara, Astanegara, Bangli, Karangasem). The convicts were not informed of their wrongdoings and therefore it was difficult for officials on Nusa Penida to establish the identity of the convicts. The number of convicts within this category is limited as the majority of them tried to settle their debts after all, or as they were willing to provide labour 'in kind' (sapangan) as a way of settling them. The punishment of exile did not merely have a negative affect on the (prestige of the) exiled himself, but also on the moral standing of his family and offspring, and indeed on his entire (social) environment.

Black magic

Convicts who had engaged in black magic (ilmu hitam, ilmu kiri). Balinese: Pengiwa, Ngeleak, Ndesti, Nyetik (poisoning), Ngerisabin. Nusa Penida Balinese: Ngerista. The legal basis for this punishment was also to be found in the Royal Paswaras. The death sentence or death by drowning was given to perpetrators of black magic. The lesser punishment was being exiled to Nusa Penida. The names of transgressors in this category were publically displayed on the walls of buildings (barak) in the immediate surroundings of Pura Ped, which, at the time, was surrounded by marshes. Balinese and Nusa Penidians considered that this was suitable location to determine whether the convicts were indeed guilty of these crimes. If the accusations were confirmed, it was assumed that the convict had been murdered by Ratu Gede Mecaling. If the accusations were unjustified, and the accused stayed alive, he could return to mainland Bali after finishing his sentence.


Transgressors of marriage laws, with a legal basis in the Royal Paswara ‘agamnya-gamana’, which condemns incest (sexual intercourse - kawin - with brother/sister, mother, father, animals and someone else's wife (menjinahi) etc. This category included the 'mengawini' of a woman of a higher cast (bangsawan). Examples of this category are: Ni Nuh Nurien who had committed adultery (berbuat serong; Balinese: memitra) and I Gusti Naga who had been in contact with the daughter of a Rajah. The perpetrators of the categories political prisoners, debtors and transgressors of adat rules were put in the midst of the inhabitants of Nusa Penida by the officials as there were no prisons. The perpetrators of ‘ilmu hitam’, during their trial period - to determine whether they were de facto guilty - were put in barracks in the vicinity of Pura Ped.

Number of inhabitants

1920: 20.321 inhabitants (including two Chinese); 1930: 26.504 inhabitants (including eight foreign immigrants from eastern regions and other non-Balinese, i.e. Bugis, and people from Java and Kalimantan). These people lived in 13 villages in the area of Dangin Batas, comprising the villages of Batununggul, Kutampi, Suwana, Tanglad, Sekartaji, Ramuan and Buyuk. The area of Dauh Batas comprises the villages of Ped, Sakti, Tulad, Pangkung, Lembongan and Jungutbatu. Each year the number of inhabitants grew steadily with approximately 2.7%. Based on these figures, the following data arise for 1880: 6980 inhabitants, and for 1890: 9119 inhabitants
 (data: Soekardjo, 1931)


Before Nusa Penida had been designated as an island for exiles, the Rajahdom of Klungkung was already in the habit of sending officials to Nusa Penida to reduce the 'social distance' between the people of Nusa Penida and those of mainland Bali. By the end of the XIXth, and the beginning of the XXth century, this led to an increased interference in the population structure of the island. Balinese culture was to be dominant and the culture of Nusa Penida was to gradually play an ever-diminishing role and eventually die out (I Ketoet Grendeng – “Dari hal-hal di Nusa Penida”, in tijdschrift Bhawanegara, nomor pertjobaan; Singaraja; Kirtya Liefrinck van der Tuuk 1930-1931, p.16-20). Klungkung, thus, had every intention of accelerating this process of 'acculturation'.

Communcation between inhabitants of Nusa Penida and Bali

1. Arts and culture: the inhabitants of Nusa Penida took over dance forms like Topeng and Parwa from the Balinese, whilst at the same time dances like Baris Jangkang and Gandrung were exported to Bali. 2. Cast system: because of the arrival of exiles of the Balinese Brahmana cast, the make-up of the Nusa Penida population changed. On Bali they were regarded with contempt as they were exiles, whilst at Nusa Penida they were tread with due respect due to their high status. This way, the social structure on Nusa Penida changed into a similar version of the Balinese system. 3. Deforestation: the exiles who were condemned to forced labour were put under responsibility of the 'Kemancaan' officials. They had to work the land and open new plots of land for agriculture at the expense of the original vegetation and forests, but benefitting the economy and the general well-being, or so it seemed. After a short while, it appeared that soil erosion and drinking water shortages had degenerated Nusa Penida, especially during the protracted dry season. As a consequence of this, the thin layer of earth washed away and Nusa Penida became an arid island. 4. Agricutural technology: with the arrival of new instruments to work the land, imported from Bali, a change took place in agricultural technology. 5. The subdivision of the population according to the cast system gradually became more common in Nusa Penida, following a system of birthright that prevailed in mainland Bali.


The banishment system to Nusa Penida served a twofold goal: 1) Nusa Penida as a prison for convicts, and 2) as a conscious acculturation initiated by the Klungkung Rajahdom. This goal was achieved by the political bureaucracy, the exile system, the exchange of expressions of art and culture and the agricultural system. During all this, inhabitants of Nusa Penida were expected to feel as Balinese living on the island. The banishments are directly linked to the political problems, belief systems, 'tindak pidana', debts and transgressors of adat (marriage etc.) Much indebted of the fact that the island changed into an arid land, the inhabitants themselves became harsher as well. Deforestation caused major poverty and turned farmers into militant and heartless people ('pantang menyerah'). The legal basis for the banishments cannot be found in the customary system, but are written down in the Paswara. The exiled who returned to Bali were received well by family and their local societies, albeit with a different 'appreciation'.

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References (Godi Dijkman)

  • Shadeg, Norbert - Balinese-English Dictionary, Tuttle Publishing, Singapore, 2007


  • Sidemen, Ida Bagus (1938-) – Penjara di tengah samudra: studi tentang Nusa Penida sebagai pulau buangan, Seminar Sejarah Lokal (Medan, 1984), Jakarta: Proyek Inventarisasi dan Dokumentasi Sejarah Nasional, Direktorat Sejarah dan Nilai Tradisional, Departemen Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan; Paper Seminar Sejarah Lokal di Medan, 17-20 September 1984, 25pp.

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