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Balinese Kepeng Coins Statue

Indonesia Art – Balinese Kepeng Coins Statue

The oldest coin that has been found in Bali is a Chinese coin cast during the Tang dynasty (618-907 A.D) Indonesia has always maintained straight trading relations with China. But the real influence began in the year 12 A.D when the King Jayapangus of Bali married a Chinese princess. The Chinese presence in Bali had a great influence on Balinese culture and art. The story goes that the King asked to have Chinese coins be part of rituals in Bali. The traditional Chinese coin is called Pis Bolong in Balinese and Uang Kepeng in Indonesian. It is about 12 cm across, with square holes and Chinese characters on one side.

Chinese coins in Balinese life

Chinese coins were used as offerings during special occasions, as weddings, burials, birthdays and cremations. They were also used as decorations for temples and statues. People believe that Chinese coins have special meanings and purposes. These coins possess divine powers. Chinese coins also become part of the people’s money system.Only until 1970, people began to forget the Chinese coins in their economic life. But they conserve their presence in ritual life, their employment as even increased more and more.

Chinese coins in Balinese version

This increase has led to people making duplicates. Smaller, thinner and cheaper.  But the Chinese characters have almost disappeared. The increase of those deficient imitations has begun to receive a special attention from the Bali Cultural Office. In 2004, with the help of the UNESCO, they plan to create Chinese coins in cheap Balinese version.

The new Balinese version uses Balinese characters instead of Chinese characters. Nowadays, the words « Sa », « Ba », « Ta », « A » can be seen beside every side of the square center hole. Over the letters, a Padma , the symbol of the holiness is depicted. Now those coins have been recommended for use in ritual ceremonies. Today, many people are using the Balinese coins but in many rituals Chinese coins can still be found.