Foreigners in Bali find themselves in hot water with Hindus over offensive social media posts
It’s known as the Island of the Gods, but that’s lost on some Western influencers who love its temples and scenic landscapes for risky social media content.
- Yogi influencer from Russia to be deported for posing naked on sacred Hindu tree
- Authorities also plan to deport a Canadian who attempted a Māori Haka on a holy mountain while naked
- Some locals say foreigners should know more about Balinese customs
Russian yogi influencer Alina Fazleeva and her husband Andrey will be deported and banned from entering Indonesia for six months after Ms Fazleeva offended Balinese Hindus by posting images of herself posing naked on a sacred tree centuries old.
Known as Kayu Putih, which translates to “white wood”, the giant tree behind Babakan Temple in Bali‘s Tabanan district is believed by locals to be 700 years old.
The image went viral after Niluh Djelantik – a prominent Balinese fashion designer and politician – posted a screenshot asking people to report Alina to immigration authorities and the police.
“She should be responsible for the cost of the cleaning ceremony to be carried out by the villagers,” Ms Djelantik said.
“Trash tourist. Go home ! she posted later.
Ms Fazleeva deleted the offending post and posted another photo showing her offering prayers while wearing the same tree.
“I apologize to everyone in Bali and Indonesia. I regret what I did,” she wrote in Indonesian.
“I’m so ashamed, I didn’t mean to offend you in any way, I had no knowledge of this place,” she said.
Despite the apology, Bali Governor Wayan Koster personally ordered his expulsion, saying in a statement that it was “very important to preserve the culture and respect the dignity of Bali” to tolerate such behavior for the sake of the country. tourist money.
Ravinjay Kuckreja researches indigenous religion at Denpasar State Hindu University in Bali and hosts the Being Bali podcast on local culture.
He said that, for Balinese Hindus, “water sources like springs, statues, trees and volcanoes are among many everyday objects that are sanctified and considered sacred.”
Having your naked body against a sacred tree was thus considered “sacrilege” by Balinese Hindus, who revere tall trees as embodying “a divine ogre named Banaspati Raja (lord of the forests),” Kuckreja said.
The incident came shortly after immigration officials said they would deport a Canadian who filmed himself attempting the ceremonial Māori Haka on a volcano revered by Balinese Hindus.
Jeffrey Craigen, a self-proclaimed “mind body healer”, went live dancing naked on the summit of Mount Batur while proclaiming that getting naked made him a “fearless child of God”.
Mr Kuckreja said dancing naked at Mount Batur was considered even worse than posing naked on the tree, as the volcano was “exceptionally sacred” to Balinese Hindus.
Jamaruli Manihuruk, Bali’s immigration official, said residents across the province were urged to “proactively monitor and report various violations by foreigners to authorities”. [so that they can take] strict action”.
Neither Ms. Fazleeva nor Mr. Craigen responded to requests for comment.
Religion and culture at the heart of everyday life
Such incidents are not new to Bali.
In August 2019 – shortly before the pandemic devastated the local tourist industry – a Czech couple uploaded a video of themselves splashing holy water on private parts of their bodies during a visit. in a complex of Hindu temples.
Another video recently posted on Indonesian social media appears to show a Caucasian man masturbating under a waterfall in Bali.
The island welcomed more than six million international travelers in 2019.
With Indonesia’s borders largely closed due to COVID-19 in 2021, however, Bali only received around 50 foreign tourists for the whole year.
Direct international flights to the island resumed in February 2022 and fully vaccinated travelers are no longer required to quarantine upon arrival.
With life approaching normal and an influx of foreigners in Bali, tourist returns are faring poorly.
“Balinese culture, Balinese ancestral beliefs and Hinduism are one in daily life in Bali,” said AA Ngurah Adi Ardhana, local MP and deputy director of the Indonesian Association of Hotels and Restaurants in Bali.
He said tourists come to Bali for many reasons and authorities should be prepared for such incidents by educating foreigners on local customs and maintaining the sanctity of holy sites.
“Preventing it is much better than having to repeat it and disrupting that sanctity,” Mr Ardhana told the ABC.
Hindus make up about 90% of the population of Bali and about 2% of the total population of Indonesia, a Muslim-majority country where religion is fundamental to identity and plays a major role in cultural and political life.
A 2020 Pew survey found that 98% of Indonesians said religion was “very important” in their lives, compared to just 18% of Australians.
Blasphemy is illegal in Indonesia, with most high-profile cases involving a member of a minority religion offending Muslims.
Jakarta’s former Christian governor, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, was controversially jailed in 2017 for allegedly blaspheming Islam.
Mr Kuckreja said that while Balinese Hindus rarely had the ability to claim blasphemy against members of the Muslim community, in the case of foreigners it was different.
“It’s about getting their rights, getting respect,” he said.
Indonesian Tourism Minister Sandiaga Uno recently said he wanted to promote traditional culture through “tourist villages” to international visitors to Bali for the G20 conference in November.
Mr Kuckreja said that in Balinese culture, visitors from other parts of Indonesia and overseas were considered “guests” and therefore treated with the island’s famous hospitality.
It is not difficult to identify holy sites in Bali, he said, since trees and other objects were usually adorned with offerings and ceremonial fabrics.
“[Tourists] really have to understand that they are guests and they don’t own everything. Before they want to do something, just ask,” Kuckreja said.
“It’s so much more polite to ask, ‘Hey, can I hug your bare tree?’ and get an appropriate response.”