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The History of Turtle Island

Folklores colour Turtle Island’s enigmatic past. One story, in the mixture, emerges to reveal a past of a different colour. I Made Mudana Wiguna, a respected trusted-figure within the Serangan community, tells of a time long ago when ancient kingdoms ruled on the island of Bali. Criminals, rebels and dissidents were banished from society, taken to remote places and prevented from ever coming back. Serangan was such a place, a forsaken island of exile, a nowhere land for ancient outcasts. This story is little known to many, but I Made Mudana Wiguna feels it is his duty to tell the island’s past as it was.  
“Almost all of the villagers know that we are descended from outcasts. This island used to be a tiny island separate from the main island. As time passed, a bridge was built and since then the island has lost its identity as an island in its own right,” said the former Village Council member.
Banished to live in exile, the outcasts of antiquity were denied the bare necessities to survive. They simply made do with whatever the wild Nature had to offer. The open seas and the abundant sea life around the island became their refuge. The new way of life turned them into skilful fishermen and, eventually, tradesmen, exchanging their fresh catch with daily necessities in barters.  

“This happened a long, long time ago, before our Bugisnese brothers and sisters came here to settle down. This was a cluster of islands then with no access back to the main island.”

Kepaon gods head home 2

Spies kept an eye from the shores across the sea, ready at all times to send an alert to the palace. The punishment for an attempted escape was severe. “The inhabitants of Serangan at the time were trapped without any means of support, except for the kindness of Nature,” I Made Mudana Wiguna said. “Traditions and rituals were impossible to perform and most of them just disappeared with time, lost forever now.”  

“We carry on with traditions that are vital and still linger in the recesses of our memory. Once, I went through ancient records scribed on lontar leaves and found traditions we miss as Balinese. Our ancestors were captives living not just in physical isolation but cut off from their rights to perform Balinese traditions on this island,” the long-haired Serangan elder said.

The hardships of being outcasts, evidently, only made them stronger. The island of exile, at one point, thrived to become an important commercial centre in ancient Bali. A trading port was established long before Benoa Harbour came into existence and flourished to become Bali’s leading port. “During our heyday, many ships stopped by to trade and do business with us. Unfortunately, it’s a past no one cares about. The people of Serangan know this, but no one thinks it’s important,” I Made Mudana Wiguna lamented. Reclamation has extended the island’s land-mass from 110 to 491 hectares. There are 3,848 people living on the island today.

The name Serangan is derived from the combined words of sira and angen, which describes a feeling of longing for someone who is missed. What is the story behind the name? I Made Mudana Wiguna believes that a deep sense of longing was once shared by those living in exile on the island. Separated from their families and friends, they constantly yearned to be reunited with the people they loved. The emotion was so closely associated with the island that eventually it became its namesake. 


Public Domain Vintage Photos

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