Our island is known for its legendary beaches, party scene, and resorts. But Bali is so much more than that and a large part of what makes this place so great is its amazing people.
Inspired by Coconuts Jakarta’s list of kickass ladies that have made Indonesia proud, Coconuts Bali has put together our own list of this island’s heroes, badasses if you will, that have repped the Island of the Gods well.
1. Gusti Ngurah Rai
There’s a reason why Denpasar Airport is named after this guy and why his face is on the Rp 50,000 note.
Gusti Ngurah Rai’s ascension to national hero status began when he formed TKR (People’s Security Army) for the lesser Sunda island after receiving military training in Bali and Central Java. Ngurah Rai then left for Yogyakarta. When the Dutch returned to Bali in 1946 (after being booted out by the Japanese), Ngurah Rai made his way back to the island to coordinate resistance against Dutch control. He was killed, along with his troops, during the Battle of Margarana on November 20, 1946. He was just 29 years old.
Ngurah Rai was officially declared a National Hero by a Presidential Decree on August 9, 1975.
2. Agung Alit
Agung Alit is the founder of Mitra Bali, an organization that aims to help Balinese craftsmen navigate the cutthroat and sometimes unforgiving world of trade. Mitra ensures that these handymen and handywomen receive adequate compensation for their work. He is also an Ashoka Fellow, which is part of a global network recognizing leading social entrepreneurs.
Alit is clearly someone who developed the “service” mentality at a young age. He worked at the legal aid society in Bali before the corruption of the legal profession made him lean towards participating in citizen-led activists’ organizations.
3. Gede Nyoman Bayu Wirayudha
With so many pressing issues in Bali, animal extinction is not always at the top of the government’s list of priorities.
Which is why it’s awesome when citizens like Bayu Wirayudha take the initiative to solve issues like this. As a veterinarian and founder of the Friends of the National Parks Foundation, he has been working to stop the extinction of Bali Starling chicks through Nusa Penida island-based community protection programs and subsequently a “loan breeding” program in Pajeng. Wirayudha told the Jakarta Post that he hopes to increase the population of the chicks and eventually put the illegal bird-poaching market out of business.
Here he is at TEDxUbud in 2012, giving a captivating talk:
4. Ayu Ketut Agung
A woman who facilitates education and formal training is always a badass in our book. Ayu Ketut Agung was the recipient of the national She Can! Award 2015 for her dedication and commitment to preservation of Balinese culture and social empowerment.
This badass woman started a salon institute that provides formal training to girls who are forced to drop out of school so that they are able to work as hairdressers, freelance make-up artists, or open up their own beauty practice.
Agung has said that the strong patriarchal system in Bali can still leave some women feeling like they are less capable. She hopes that her courses will rid women of this particular mindset.
5. Rizal Tandjung
Many famous pro-surfers hail from the Western World, but Rizal Tandjung is a homegrown legend.
CNN has dubbed him “One of Bali’s surfing pioneers.” Tanjung says that getting into surfing required him to overcome certain cultural taboos, specifically that the sea is an extremely dangerous place where the sea god will take you away. Defying cultural norms isn’t an easy act in a place like Bali, or anywhere in Indonesia in general, but Tanjung persisted and eventually began to help change the surfing culture.
These days, Tandjung supposedly combines surfing with running his businesses, a clothing company and multiple surf shops.
6. Ketut Liyer
Does anyone not know who this famous medicine man is?
Okay, Eat, Pray, Love skeptics, we know you’re rolling your eyes right now. But you can’t deny that it’s pretty badass to put Bali on people’s radars, and that so many people are so curious to visit him when they go and set foot in Pulau Dewata. Googling “Ketut Liyer” will yield numerous bloggers’ writing about their visits, as evidenced below:
7. Tahlia Raji
This Balinese Babe first caught our attention when she appeared on Cycle 3 of Asia’s Next Top Model. While another Indonesian candidate, Ayu Ghani, eventually took the title, Raji’s badassery lies in her facing her fears of inheriting her family’s breast cancer gene (thankfully her tumors have proven to be benign) and alerting the world that Bali’s beauty goes beyond beaches and rice paddies.
8. I Wayan Suardana, “Gendo”
This environmental and social justice activist turned lawyer has always been a passionate advocate since his student days. He’s probably most famously known as the coordinator of ForBALI, a citizen forum that opposes the controversial Benoa Bay Reclamation.
In 2004, when he was a law student at Udayana University, Gendo was arrested and served a six-month sentence at the notorious Kerobokan Prison for setting fire to the president’s picture (he was protesting the government’s fuel price hike). We’ve all read about the horrors of Kerobokan, but Gendo didn’t let that experience dissuade him from challenging the government to maintain Bali’s natural environmental beauty.
This Kuta-born drummer from punk band Superman Is Dead is probably best known for his badass music skills, but he’s also an ambassador for Bali to the rest of Indonesia. Along with Gendo, he’s a firm opponent of the Benoa Bay Reclamation and often uses SID as a forum to voice his protests.
When he’s not drumming away or being a political activist, you can find him managing various businesses (his Facebook page identifies him as the owner of local punk spot Twice Bar, Lady Rose Tattoo Shop and also the clothing line RMBL). Oh, and just being a Good Samaritan in the local community, like dressing up as a clown in the name of anti-bullying or giving testimonials about the importance of saving Bali dogs (see video). Seriously, what’s not to love about this guy?
10. Luh Putu Upadisari
This Ashoka fellow (better known as “Sari”) is a doctor working tirelessly to ensure that low-income women have access to affordable sexual and reproductive health services, and are properly educated on related topics.
Sari set up a health clinic in Pasar Badung, which unfortunately caught fire earlier this year. Through her foundation, Yayasan Rama Sesana, she works with her staff to reach out to women and share information around sexual and reproductive health over one-on-one discussions. They also host monthly educational meetings on topics that are suggested by clinic’s clients, in addition to providing counseling services.
In October 2015, Sari told Tribun Bali that when she started her foundation, her family called her “crazy” and suggested that she put her focus on furthering her higher education. But being the badass woman that she is, she soldiered on with her mission and now, many low-income and marginalized women are much better off as a result. So yay for her courage!
11. Joey Alexander
Possibly the youngest and most well-known badass Balinese person to date. Joey Alexander catapulted to international fame after becoming an overnight sensation for his performance at the Jazz Lincoln Center Gala.
Before moving to New York, this 12-year-old was living in Jakarta, but he was born in Denpasar to amateur musician and adventure tourism business parents. So we think we have the right to claim him as one of our own, right?
Now, we’re sure that this is just a very teeny tiny sample of the badass Balinese population that are doing amazing things to make Bali proud. We have no doubt that there are many hardworking and trailblazing men and women who, for whatever reason, haven’t been widely recognized for their efforts and achievements.
Alas, this list is just to remind you all that inspiration can be found in our island. And if you do find someone worthy of recognition, do hit us up on Facebook or Twitter so we can spread the message of their badassery to the world.