Twelve kilometres long, Lovina Beach on the north coast is close to Singaraja, the second largest city in Bali (over 600,000 people). It is a quiet tourist destination; beyond the July-September season Lovina looks sleepy. But this does not deter me. I am going to explore the Java Sea. Admittedly it’s only a short trip, just a few miles off the coast.

Nyoman, a fisherman from Lovina offers his boat for a reasonable price and a straw hat for free – you wouldn’t explore the Java Sea in a Kookaburra leather hat, would you? We leave a fishing village as the morning is just warming up. This part of Bali is known as the hottest, the sea temperature inching to 28 degrees. Soon Nyoman gets his hook and a line ready for tuna. Other fishermen are already on the water. They exchange some simple signs with Nyoman, alerting him I guess, to the good fishing areas. For them, the sea is like a landscape that they know by heart.

Nyoman, a fisherman from Lovina, Bali.
Nyoman, a fisherman from Lovina, Bali. Image: Stan Florek
© Australian Museum

As we ‘sail’ on, I reflect about the sea, which for millennia was a conduit of cultural exchange. From far away India, Hinduism was implanted in this part of the world. A variety of goods and ideas were introduced from China, which among other things induced fishing in the north Australian waters for sea cucumber, probably even before the Portuguese, lured by pepper, entered these tropical waters.

Islam from the far Middle East, had been reaching Indonesian islands for a long time, but did not take a significant foothold until the early decades of the 16th century. It later became the dominant faith under the nose of Dutch colonial power. The exclusive holding of ports by the Dutch pushed Muslim traders into smaller villages and towns, thus spreading their faith with the ordinary people. Islam consolidated itself through the archipelago in the late 19th century, and became a symbol for anti-colonial movements. However, the quirky twists of history ensured that Bali remained predominantly Hindu.

I examine our boat. It is a dugout canoe with some modern fittings, namely the outboard motor. The bulk of the hull is above the water, but the double outrigger makes it pretty stable. These types of canoes, with peaked up ends, were common in Oceania, including Southeast Asia and Melanesia in historic and prehistoric times.

The boats of essentially the same type have ploughed the Java Sea for millennia. They connected humans across Southeast Asia and beyond. They brought the restless Austronesian Argonauts to the major Pacific islands of Polynesia. Fiji and New Caledonia for example, were settled around 3,000 BCE just little ahead of the Early Dynastic period in Egypt and the construction of the first major pyramid - in Saqqara.

There is another example of people and nature working together. Long before dolphin watching became a tourist attraction, Lovinan fishermen relied on these gentle creatures, to find their fisheries.


The term tuna used in Lovina probably covers other species of fish as well.

BCE – means Before Common Era, and indicates the years counted back from the first year of the Western Calendar. For example, in 30 BCE Rome conquered Egypt and Cleopatra took her own life.

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