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Mesatua, Balinese Storytelling

Foreword from Listen to the World

On July 4th, our Balinese brothers and sisters celebrated Saraswati Day, the Day of Knowledge.

Knowledge is a sacred and beautiful phenomenon to the Balinese. It is represented by Saraswati, who is a charming Goddess with four arms that hold (and play) a zither, scriptures and rosary beads. The word Saraswati means “the one that flows”; a never-ending, flowing river that distributes knowledge across the lands. This “flowing” knowledge is an integral aspect of Balinese tradition that is found in numerous guises: from nature, holy books and manuscripts, to folklore, traditional arts and games. The holistic nature of knowledge makes it more than just the mere acquisition of information (cleverness), but also to that of wisdom (intelligence). It is due to these foundations that the Balinese pay earnest respect towards their ancestral knowledge.

In this day and age, where modernization and technological advancement could potentially threaten local knowledge and wisdom, I Wayan Sapta Wigunadika – with full awareness of such issues – takes a step in preserving and cultivating ancestral legacies by writing articles targeting the young generation in Bali, the Indonesian government, and eventually the citizens of world.

Happy reading!


Story telling: Balinese Way to Build Character

By I Wayan Sapta Wigunadika

Storytelling (masatua), is one of Bali’s cultural heirlooms that has a critical role in building a child’s character. Children gain tremendously from this activity, such as learning their native language and bonding with their parents. Once a tradition passed down the generations, mesatua, unfortunately, is now diminishing, and is replaced by the existence of technologies such as smartphones and TVs. This is ultimately a pity; the time my mother told me bedtime stories is one of the fondest memories I have.

Photography: I Wayan Sapta Wigunadika

Stories (satua) are a type of ancient Balinese literary practice that is characterized by its free form, not dictated by the number of stanzas, and anonymity. There are two kinds of stories: oral and written, and they can be made up of legends, myths, or tales from religious scriptures. The topics revolve around human life and fables. The characters in the tales represent human behavior in real life, and about the notions of good and bad.

Storytelling (mesatua) is strongly rooted in Balinese traditions. It serves as a medium to convey educational, moral, and ethical messages. To convey such messages, a storyteller must be able to communicate in a way that captures children’s attention and invigorates their imaginations. The stories contain a wide range of moral values such as responsibility, creativity, obedience, vigilance, sincerity, friendship, modesty, loyalty, ethics, beliefs, and so on.

Many traditional Balinese stories teach good moral values to help build a child’s character. For instance, the tale of “Siap Selem” (Black Chicken) is a satirical story about people who pretend to be kind and give a helping hand, but inside they are evil. The story ends with the pretentious, evil character being eventually punished with bad fate.

Telling a story in Balinese culture is not as simple as it sounds. It is filled with local wisdom and must be taken seriously. Overtime, storytelling is not only done before bedtime, but expanded into different forms, such as theatrical performances or written into books.

Photography: I Wayan Sapta Wigunadika

In conclusion, storytelling is the proper method in building a child’s character. In just a short amount of time every night, not only can parents instill cultural values into a child’s mind, it also helps them to learn language. This is not something that can be missed if the child is to be nurtured properly.


English Translation by Riri Rafiani.

Featured image by Maria Junia


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