Bali Governor Wayan Koster recently won the National Cultural Preservation award for his efforts to conserve Balinese traditions, wisdom, and physical landscape. However, this week, he has increased his commitment to Balinese cultural preservation by highlighting the issues created by families with fewer children.
For decades, the Indonesian government has been on a mission to bring down birth rates as part of targets set by the National Population and Family Planning Agency. The motto of the campaign is ‘two children is enough’, but for Governor Koster, the campaign brings about a cultural preservation issue.
Balinese culture has a unique naming system for its children. The names given to each child denote the order of their birth. For example, firstborn children are always called Wayan, Putu, Gede, or Ni Luh for girls. Second-born children are called Made, Nengah, or Kadek. Children born third in their families are called Nyoman or Komang, and the fourth child is always called Ketut. The naming order then repeats itself should there be five or more children, with the suffix Balik added to their name.
Governor Koster is concerned that the decreasing birth rate in Bali will soon render the names Nyoman, Komang, and Ketut extinct. Speaking at the Art Center in Denpasar on Tuesday, 21st February, Governor Koster said, “If all [families] have two children, it means Nyoman and Ketut are extinct? It will lose this cultural element.”
He continued, “Now, try to check the registration of new students in elementary school. Entering elementary school, first look at how many Nyomans are there? How many Ketuts are there? Definitely, it’s very rare.” Governor Koster confirmed that he has coordinated with the Head of the National Family Planning Population Agency (BKKBN), Hasto Wardoyo, to soon create a four-child family planning program.
He explained, “For Bali, please don’t impose the two-child family planning rule. This will be detrimental to the people of Bali. We are not that many, to begin with, so don’t shrink our population.”
According to the 2020 census conducted by the Central Statistics Agency, Bali has a population of 4.32 million people, with a nearly equal gender split. Of the 4.32 million residents, just over 70% of the population are of working age. Buleleng is the most populous regency, with 791,000 residents, while Klungkung Regency is the least populous regency, home to 206,930 people.
As Indonesia comes closer to stabilizing population growth in alignment with the government’s plans, Bali will have an agency population sooner rather than later. This brings about a whole host of challenges unto itself, namely that there are not enough young people in the workforce to support the aging population.
As many countries across Asia are actively trying to promote larger families, Indonesia is still steadfast in trying to decrease the birth rate. Indonesia is encouraging both marrying later and more widespread access to contraception and family planning, as well as increasing infrastructure surrounding health, employment, and access to education. That said, in many regions of Indonesia, access to contraceptive and reproductive healthcare, especially for young women, is both difficult and culturally frowned upon.
All these factors have been effective in bringing Indonesia’s birth rate down to 2.1 children per woman. While Koster’s plea for families to have four children may help preserve the traditional naming linage, some would argue that the decrease in birth rate is a sign of increased agency for women in Bali and that encouraging women to have four children may be a step backward for women’s empowerment.
While the program may give couples the societal permission they need to have the large family they want, a four-child program could bring with it increased societal and familial pressure for young women who have imagined a different life for themselves.
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