The Indonesian word for village is ‘desa’. This term covers two aspects of village life and territory: the rice-fields, and the built-up area of family compounds, roads and temples (of which there are at least three in each village).
Despite so much modernisation on the island, village life is still amazingly well-organised and structured in Bali, largely due to the twin organisational bodies; the banjar and the subak.
The banjar is a legal and administrative body made up of the male heads of each family within a village, and set up to provide direct democracy: all members are called up to make important decisions. Meetings take place twice a month to address issues ranging from deciding on auspicious dates for religious ceremonies, to collecting taxes and lending money to its members.
The members of the banjar are also responsible for the upkeep of the temple, its finances, preparing for ceremonies and providing offerings. If they shirk their responsibilities, they risk being ejected from the banjar.
The head of the banjar has the responsibility of settling disputes, and can even choose to send somebody to prison.
When a village grows too large and the banjar has more than 200 members, it is divided up into separate groups for more effective administration.
The subak is an organization of farmers responsible for the running of the agricultural side of village life – the rice fields and the sophisticated irrigation system, in place since the 11th century, used to flood the fields at key times of year.
The subak has around 200 members who share access to water supplies, and all members have equal rights to water regardless of their caste of the size of their land. All decisions regarding rice-farming are made as a group; rice growing methods only function, then, when the community works in harmony.