This will not be a general language guide to Bali. Rather, this will be a specific focus on Balinese words which sum up a concept that is uniquely Balinese (or at least Indonesian). This is important to know, because none of these words have a direct translation into any English dialect. And so, each of them provide an interesting insight for those about to visit (or return to) the island of Bali.

Rojong – The concept of mutual communal cooperation.

In the west, we might have mottoes like “everyone for themselves” or “may the best player win”. This spirit of individual competition is somewhat looked down upon in Balinese society, in favor of “rojong”, the sharing of work so that all may gain equal benefit from the results. Kind of in a commune / socialism sense, many Balinese villages thrive on community gardens, group herding, and sharing of resources and even living space. If you’ve heard the expression “it takes a village to raise a child”, that’s the kind of spirit the Balinese have.

Tjotjog – To fit perfectly into one’s environment.

You might notice that even at their most industrial, the Balinese seem to live closer to nature. In the Western world, we might mow the lawn and water it in the summer, forcing a natural living thing to conform with our idea of a smooth green carpet. Indonesians are more likely to let it grow how it wants, and furthermore to not even put a door on their grass hut and allow the local monkeys to scamper in and out as they please. This isn’t just a primitive attitude; “tjotjog”, pronounced “chot-chog”, is a word borrowed from Java which means a philosophy of fitting into anyplace such that you unarguably belong there, without intruding in any way. It’s an aesthetic value, applied to everything from names to architecture.

Rame – Crowded, bustling, chaotic, and hectic society.

You might have noticed some public behavior among the Balinese. They don’t so much wait in line as swarm the vendor. Have a concert, and they’ll all talk all the way through it, get up and sit down somewhere else, and generally act like they’re barely paying attention. Get up to go run an errand, and the entire household will insist on coming with you. The Balinese are highly sociable people, and they have enough of a sense of humor that they even make fun of themselves about this: the word “bebek-bebekan” means “quacking like a group of ducks” and that’s how they describe the way they all flock around making idle chit-chat. To the Western eye, it seems impossible to make heads or tails of what’s going on half the time, and you may yearn for a quiet room to yourself sometimes – but “rame” is exactly how the Balinese like it!

Mantra – A chant used to gain spiritual power.

“Mantra” has long ago entered English usage, but we thought it was worth pointing out that this Indonesian / Sanskrit word came from this region of the world first. the concept is an influence on many Balinese performing arts, and religious rituals as well.

Njepi The national holiday in which everyone is silent.

This is the Saka new year. Held sometime in March every year, it’s a Hindu holiday in which all of Bali basically shuts down and hides for the day. The concept here is that if the evil spirits come to your place looking for trouble, they’ll be fooled by the silence and the lack of activity and hit the road to look elsewhere. Stores are closed, planes are grounded, even the TV and radio stations are hushed. The whole island becomes one big library.