POST D: Erupting volcano; natural disaster or natural phenomena?

Headlines of destruction, danger and tourist safety have flooded the Australian news recently due to the ongoing volcanic eruption of Mount Agung in Bali, Indonesia (Hannam 2017). But whilst the Australian news captures this natural occurrence as a natural disaster, the Balinese perceive this event as a natural phenomenon. But what’s the difference? For Australians, a natural disaster encompasses; hurricanes and flooding, while supermoons and rainbows are categorized as natural phenomena (Brook 2016). However, for the Balinese, natural phenomena include the wonder of volcanic eruptions.

Located within the Pacific Ring of Fire, Indonesia is home to frequent and large-scale natural occurrences. With a history filled with an assortment of experiences with natural events from volcanic eruptions to tsunamis (The Jakarta Post 2016), Indonesians have developed a unique reaction to these events overtime.

The recent eruption of Mount Agung, has illuminated this almost foreign response to natural disasters, when compared to how Australians handle these catastrophic situations. The Balinese are no stranger to volcanic eruptions, and it is through this past experience, knowledge and sacred outlook on these natural structures, which has stemmed this almost unnatural peaceful attitude (Mallonee 2017). The Balinese describe the eruption of Mount Agung as being ‘part of a natural cycle’ (BBC 2017) which will offer ‘gifts’ of new rocks and a more fertile land than before.

The Balinese Hindus believe that the four volcanic mountains within Bali; Agung, Batur, Abang and Batukaru, ‘form Bali’s backbone’ (Radu 2017) and is held of high value and sacredness. Mount Agung; translated to ‘The Great Mountain’ is the largest point in Bali and is believed to be home to one of their gods, the deity Shiva (Reuter 2002). The sacred value of Mount Agung combined with false alarms of eruptions in the past has led the majority of the Balinese to choose to stay within their home; within the danger zone of the erupting volcano.

“Emergency call counter in a hotel in Bali. There are many hotels with a so-called ‘tsunami ready’ certificate.” Hahn, M. & Hartung, J.

For the Balinese, the eruption of Mount Agung is a message from the gods which can only be controlled through rituals and prayers for their safety and avoiding disaster (Reuter 2002). Dwea Ketut Soma; a Pura Besakih priest, suggests that only through sincere prayers will the eruption be tamed and not catastrophic. However, if the Balinese were to ignore their ritual duties, the scale of the eruption will be disastrous (Radu 2017).

When faced with natural threats, the immediate Australian response is to evacuate and find safety (Stuart 2017). However, for Indonesians and the Balinese in particular, their peaceful attitude has been formed through their religious views and past experiences. Consequently, shifting events such as volcanic eruptions and hurricanes from natural disasters to natural phenomena.

A map showing the intrinsic relationship between the land of Bali and it’s four mountains; Mount Batukaru, Batur, Abang and Agung.

Reference List:

BBC 2017, Bali on alert as feared and revered volcano rumbles, BBC, viewed 1 December 2017 <>

Brook, B. 2016, ­­Supermoon, which will look brighter and larger than any moon for 68 years, to pass by Earth on 14 November, Australia, News, viewed 1 December 2017 <>

Cameron, L. & Shah, M. 2015, ‘Risk-Taking Behavior in the Wake of Natural Disasters’, JHR: The Journal of Human Resources, vol. 50, no. 2, pp. 484-515

Casimir, M. 2008, Culture and the Changing Environment: Uncertainty, Cognition and Risk Management in Cross-cultural Perspective, Berghahn Books, New York

Hahn, M. & Hartung, J. Beauty and the Beast, Hahn+Hartung, viewed 4 December 2017 < >

Hannan, P. 2017, ‘Potential for major impacts’: Australian team readies for Bali’s Mt Agung eruption, Australia, SMH, viewed 1 December 2017 <>

Kuzma-Floyd, E. 2017, No. 3 Mount Agung Erupting, Eyes of a Nomad, viewed 4 December 2017<>

Mallonee, L. 2017, What it’s like living in the land of natural disasters, Wired, viewed 4 December 2017 <>

Radu, A. 2017, Balinese Hindus await the eruption of Mount Agung, home of a god, RNS: Religion News Service, viewed 3 December 2017 <>

Reuter, T. 2002, Custodians of the Sacred Mountains: Culture and Society in the Highlands of Bali, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, Hawaii

Stuart, R. 2017, NSW floods: One dead, 20,000 evacuated as water inundates Murwillumbah, Lismore, Australia, ABC, viewed 1 December 2017 <>

The Jakarta Post 2016, Indonesia sees highest number of natural disasters in 10 years, Jakarta, The Jakarta Post, viewed 1 December 2017 <>



2 thoughts on “POST D: Erupting volcano; natural disaster or natural phenomena?

  1. This is an interesting account on how Australia and Bali both view erupting volcanoes. I have never thought of it in the accepting approach Bali believe them to be, and hope that one day Australia will learn to think of them as something we cannot avoid as they only naturally occur. A beautifully drawn map too that allowed me to visualise where the mountains are located exactly.

  2. This is a very insightful subject matter, providing me with a new understanding of the complex differences between Australian and Indonesian culture. It was interesting to hear how what is a seemingly bad event, can be viewed as part of the wonders of nature. This really shows the differences in attitudes and the peacefulness that is evident in Indonesian culture.

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