Gurun, Pulo Rossa, Bandit Island (Giambelli, 1995)

There are no relevant and consistent data on the island's history; the available material is fragmentary and scattered throughout the few authors who have dealt with the matter.

Nusa Penida as Gurun

According to a number of Indonesian and Balinese historians and scholars, in earlier Balinese inscriptions and Javanese history Nusa Penida could have been referred to as Gurun. The name appears for the first time in the prasasti Blanjong found in the Sanur area. The inscription, which is severely damaged, is dated saka year 835 (AD 913) and reports the victories achieved by the Balinese King Sri Kesari Warmadewa in Gurun and Suwal. The name Gurun next appears in a number of passages of the Nagarakertagama. Korn (1944: 101) after Erde (1911), arguing on the basis of the Nagarakertagama evidence, suggests that formerly the island, with the name of Gurun, was part of the Majapahit Empire, and had a capital called Sukun. Goris (1954:234) who also analysed the prasasti Blanjong indicates in his notes to the text that the name of Gurun found on the pillar refers only to a village or town placed outside Bali and does not give any suggestion that the place ought to be identified with Nusa Penida. Tara Wiguna (1990:30) points out how Gurun could be equally interpreted as Nusa Penida or a specific area of Lombok.

Sidemen (1980a:2) reminds us how the term gurun in Indonesian indicates an extended area covered by a dry type of grass which is exactly how Nusa Penida appears during its prolonged dry season. He nonetheless notes that the term in the prasasti Blanjong is Old Balinese rather than Indonesian. To contribute to these uncertainties and speculations, I should add that according to Zoetmulder [OJED] the term gurun in Old Javanese may have indicated both a kind of unspecified grass and a country.

This may thus support an indirect confirmation of Nusa Penida as Gurun. Moreover, as already mentioned by Korn, in the southern part of the island (desa Batukandik) there still exists a banjar called Sukun. However, the banjar's role as capital of a former kingdom is disputable for in the area there are no evident traces of a pristine royal puri. Though in the late seventies archaeological remains were found in the area of Batukandik,11 no particular indications were drawn from them, and no clear references to primeval royal houses ascertained. No further archaeological research has been undertaken in the island since that time, it is therefore difficult to above assumption with hard data.

Pulo Rossa and Nusa

giambelli 1995 map1848 bandieteneilanden

References to Nusa Penida and its sister islands appear in various European and texts. As early as 1597 the existence of as Pulo Rossa was reported W. Lodewycksz who wrote the of the expedition of Cornelis de Houtman on the southern oceans. Lodewycksz in his diary (see Rouffaer 1915: 201-202) remarks how at that time the island was already used as a place banishment for criminal and political subversives and indeed how the Dewa Agung (Coninck) at the time of the Dutch visit had just prevented a political turmoil and banished to the island for 10 to 12 years a number of political conspirators. Lodewycksz calls the island Pulo Rossa and remarks on wild nature. Rouffaer (1915: 201 n.19) commenting on this suggests that the term may have come from the Malay rusa (deer). It was in fact common for Indonesian rajahs to leave minor islands of their domain as wild areas and keep them as breeding places for deer and reserved hunting grounds. Apart from these Dutch references and the above-mentioned prasasti, Balinese historical sources on Nusa Penida are also found in a number of babad and other local narratives. In these texts Nusa Penida is simply mentioned as Nusa. Sidemen (1980a) who has reconstructed the chronology of the island's history draws his main sources on the early history of Nusa from two texts: Dalem Sawangan and Babad Bla-Batuh. In both texts the sections that deal with Nusa Penida are similar in the epic narrative. In both babad is told the story of the liberation of Nusa from evil tyrants by a group of soldiers led by a noble commander sent to the island by a rajah from the eastern kingdom of Bali. Outraged by the Dalem's transgressions the Rajah of Bali sent Aji Dukut to the island to kill the ruler.

Eventually the commander achieved this and became the new governor of Nusa Penida with the name of Dalem Dukut. Later, he too began to oppress his subjects and was accused of indiscriminate licentious behaviour. The news was again reported, this time by the prabekel of Gulingan, to the Rajah of Bali who forthwith demanded the life of Dalem Dukut. A first attempt was made by I Gusti Paminggir who died in the fight; after his failure I Gusti Tenganan Jelantik was finally able to kill Dalem Dukut and free the people of Nusa Penida.

The second parallel narrative is taken from the Babad Bla-Batuh, a well-known text already analysed Berg (1932). The chronicle refers to events of the Jelantik house occurring between the 17th and 19/20th centuries. The section that concerns Nusa Penida is dealt with at the beginning the text. Also in this chronicle it is acknowledged that the island was formerly ruled by a tyrant named I Dewa Bungkut. Exasperated by I Dewa Bungkut's rule one the bendesa (desa's head) of Nusa Penida reported the case to the Dalem of Bali who then decided to send to Nusa Penida I Gusti Ngurah Jelantik to kill I Dewa Bungkut. After a sea crossing from Kusamba, I Gusti Ng. Jelantik, his wife and 200 soldiers landed in Jungutbatu; they then proceeded to Nusa Penida where they found and engaged the despot in battle. Following a series of inconclusive fights I Gusti Ng. Jelantik decided to use his most powerful weapon the kris Poncok Sahang made with the fang belonging to I Basuki. Strengthened by the power this invincible weapon Jelantik was finally able to defeat I Dewa Bungkut. The narrative relates that the body of the former ruler was then taken a nearby temple (pura) where all the prescribed funerary rituals proper to his status were performed. Both these texts are presented in mythological form and it is difficult to evaluate their historical grounding. Sidemen (1980a:8-10) attempts to draw from both narratives a proper historical sequence placing the first Balinese intervention in Nusa Penida, the one concerning Dalem Sawang, between 1360-1650 in the period of the Kresna Kepakisan dynasty. According to him the reason for the expedition was to quell the desire of Nusa Penida for independence. The intervention was ordered by the Dalem Watu Renggong and carried out by Dukut Petak. The reign of Dalem Watu Renggong (Gelgel, 16th century) appears to have been one of the most stabile in the region and one in which the Kresna Kepakisan dynasty reached a remarkable expansion incorporating in its influence Blambangan (Java), Pasuruhan (Java), Lombok, Nusa Penida and Sumbawa.

The Babad Dalem (Warna et Altri 1986:29), a text whose first known version dates from the beginning of the 19th century, reports this expansion and acknowledges the conquest of Nusa Penida by the Dalem Watu Renggong. The second Balinese expedition to the island, the one told in the Babad Bla-Batuh, took place around 1650 under the reign of Dalem Di Made. Sidemen argues again that the Balinese intervention in Nusa Penida's affairs was caused by the Dalem Bungkut's proclamation of the island's independence vis-a-vis Bali. Dalem Di Made first sent an expedition led by Ki Gusti Paminggir who lost his life in the fight. Thereafter, a second effort was made by I Gusti Jelantik who succeeded in subjugating Nusa Penida and removing the Dalem Bungkut.

Banditen eilanden, Nusa Pandita, Nusa Penida

Further Balinese historical references concerning Nusa Penida indicate that the island was firmly in the hands of the Klungkung rajahdom and that it was used by a number of Balinese kingdoms as a place of banishment for different types of convicts. A Balinese treaty, Paswara Asta Negara, reports an agreement between eight Balinese kingdoms (asta negara) held in the saka year 1776 (A.D. 1854 ). The treaty concerns the institution of norms of conduct in matters of adat between the eight rajahdoms. It makes provisions for any intra-border violation, recognises that the island belongs to Ida Cokorda Dewa Agung of Klungkung and establishes the types of punishment for murder, or those attempting murder. Those accused of such crimes, whatever caste or group they belonged to, were to be sent to Nusa Penida for at least one year. The punishment was to be reduced to six months if a fine was paid but in any case the period of banishment could not be less than three months. Should anyone attempt to return to Bali before the end of the period of confinement, he or she was to be banished to the island for the rest of his or her life. Other evidence corroborating the use of the island as a place of confinement is to be found in the Babad Dalem (Warna et Altri 1986:29, 113-4), where it is reported that a triwangsa from Bali, I Dewa Made Rai, had been legally confined for a period to Nusa Penida.

Another Balinese text, the Geguritan Rereg Gianyar (Sidemen 1980b:236-7) endorses the use of the island as a place of exile and indicates slander - possibly as a political means to discredit someone or some family - as one of the main reasons for banishment. Sidemen (1980a: Lampiran B8) reports on a whole list of convicts who were sent to Nusa Penida. The great majority of them were originally from the Gianyar and Klungkung rajahdoms. Among them were a pedanda, and members of ksatria and wesia groups. Most of these high-ranking convicts were followed to the island by their entourage, their wives and children. In the large majority of the cases the banishments appear to have been motivated by improper political involvement or the charge of practicing black magic. In a few cases the seclusion was brought about by the breaching of the adat code that regulated marriage or the relations between the sexes. On the island's west coast there is the village of Penida. Still in existence, the village, was supposed to have been one of the places where capital executions for Balinese condemned to death were carried out.

According to Gertis (1925:102-3): "In earlier years exile bore a more serious character. In the bay in front of the Penida's kampung lies an overground rock beaten by the furious waves of the south sea.[...] During the princely rule of Bali, those who had been condemned to death, and for whom particular punishment was desired, were tied up to trees on this rock. [...]. Should the condemned person be lucky enough to free himself and escape swimming to the land, the kampung head had immediately to kill him/her with his kris. The head was responsible, at the cost of his own life, for the fulfillment of this obligation." [my translation] The report of Gertis appears rather unique for I have found no other written evidence directly linking exile with overt capital punishment by drowning. I should add though, that people from Nusa Penida assert that in former times serious breach of marriage rules (e.g. marriage between siblings of different mothers but the same father) were punished by the death of the couple who were drowned in the sea. This type of death was referred to as kalebok ring segara. Because of the aura the island has in the eyes of the Balinese, Sidemen expressed the conviction that from a Balinese perspective banishment on Nusa Penida, in itself, was analogous to capital punishment for at least two reasons: first the harsh living conditions ensured that only a few could survive the hardships of the confinement; secondly the island's close link with Ratu Gede Macaling, the powerful god abiding in the Pura Penataran Ped, induced a sense of fear in those Balinese sent to Nusa Penida for Ratu G. Macaling was deemed to be the supreme judge in front of whom no fraud was possible nor was allowed to pass unpunished. Balinese believed, and still believe, that if someone sent to the island was really guilty then Ratu Gede Macaling would inevitably punish that person taking his life before the end of period of one year in confinement. Conversely, if one were to survive, in the Balinese eyes this was proof that that person was truly innocent of the accusation for the god had not taken his life. This historical past contributed to forging in the eyes of some Dutch and American writers the image of Nusa Penida as a 'Bandit island' for as such the island was commonly known after Bali's colonisation.

In some Dutch maps of the late 19th century and early 20th century Bali, Nusa Penida is explicitly referred to as 'Bandit Island' (i.e. see plate N.3, the map shown was originally published in 1848 in Lauts: Het Eilande Balie). Both Helbig (1939) and Holt (1970:67) acknowledge this toponym. Holt, somewhat fancifully, suggests that the name "Penida means pamor, the white meteorite metal worked into krisses; [the island] on early Dutch maps appeared under the name "Noesa Pandita" (pandita = wizard, recluse); and, finally, the English seafarers chose to designate it as "Bandit Island". This last name, aside from its phonetic relationship with pandita had its justification in the evil reputation of the island, for it was the place of banishment for all criminal and undesirable subjects in the kingdom of Klungkung to which it belonged. More simply and less exotically penida in Balinese means lime, chalk, a material in which the island is undoubtedly rich, for lime is used as one of the principal components in the chewing of sirih leaves and areca nut in both Nusa Penida and Bali.


  • Giambelli, Rodolfo A. - Reciprocating with Ibu Pretiwi. Social organisations and the importance of plants, land and the ancestors in Nusa Penida, Department of Anthropology Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies The Australian National University. Canberra 1995, p. 6-13

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