Called ‘Pis Bolong’ in Balinese or ‘Uang Kepeng in Indonesians, these Chinese coins are living relics that make a ceremony incomplete without their presence. Ancient Chinese coins with a square hole in the middle and Chinese characters on the sides are everywhere in Bali, so find out why the Balinese use these coins.
For a long time, Bali and China have established a relationship, one of the main reasons is they were trading since the 7th century. An inscription discovered in the village of Sukawana suggests that it was in the 9th century that these coins were used in Balinese Hindu rituals. The Chinese presence had a great influence on Balinese art and culture, this relationship even led to the historic marriage between Sri Maharaja Aji Jayapangus, king of Bali, and Kang Cin We a Chinese princess in 1200 AD. The history said that Kang Cin Wei asked the king that Chinese coins must be part of Balinese rituals. After that, the coins integrated the rites and also the monetary system.
In Java and Bali, the coins have become the “pennies” of the economy with each coin having faces of equal value. The hole in the middle had a utility purpose, the coins were hung on a wire and counted if necessary. The Europeans who came in the 17th century did not change the use of these coins, but they used their own currency for trade. After the independence of Indonesia, the rupiah became the form of national currency. The Chinese coins remained for daily transactions. Until 1970 when the awareness of the people started they gave up using Chinese coins in their economic life but their goal for the rituals continued.
The presence of coins in rituals has become a habit, however, the stock of coins has dropped. For certain rituals such as cremation or Butha Kala, the coins cannot be reused. The increase in demand has led people to create fake ones, the duplicates are very different from the original Chinese coins. Their size is smaller, they are thinner and the Chinese inscriptions have almost disappeared. You can easily find these imitations in the markets, the price is lower than the original.
The use of copies of the Chinese coins is however not recommended. This problem has received government attention, the Bali Cultural Office has formed the Bali Heritage Trust. Their first pilot project was to make Chinese coins in the Balinese version. This project started in 2004 and was facilitated by Unesco. This took place in the village of Tojan in the Klungkung region of Bali where a factory produces parts for the rituals. This factory creates 5 different versions of Chinese coins and products in 5 different materials known as Panca Datu or the 5 elements of life: iron, silver, copper, gold, bronze. Respectively these materials have special meanings. The Balinese characters also show special meaning and forces and replace the Chinese characters which generally note the name of the issuing dynasty. Each side of the square of the piece represents the strength of the 4 cardinal points of the compass. Above the letters on the coin is the Padma, the symbol of holiness is represented.
The manufacturing process of these Balinese coins incorporates a unique method which is to collect household remains such as broken taps etc. Besides cleaning up the environment, they did not want to depend on materials that were offered at the factory. But how can used things be used for ceremonies? All recycled materials are forged together and thus become a new thing. In addition, Penganugerahan ceremonies (to ask for purity and blessing of an object) are conducted at Besakih temple and Ulun Danu Batur temple. The unique properties of these Balinese coins are hoped to motivate people to use them in their rituals. In addition, their price is cheaper and they are recommended to be used for offerings.
Some people believe that Chinese coins have different meanings and purposes, they believe that they have divine powers, especially those with special symbols or inscriptions. These symbols are said to have powers linked to an epic legend, but this is just a rumor. Coins are normal items that can contain powers when they are filled with certain rituals. There are also statues made out of coins, for example, a statue of Bhatara Rambut Sedana who is worshiped as the god of fortune. If a special ritual is done the statue can be used for worship otherwise it remains just a simple statue. Despite the presence of Balinese coins, Chinese coins remain the most used.