by Luh De Suriyani on 2012-11-27

Mirah Astuti Kompiang (right)

Udayana University researcher I Nyoman Darma Putra stated that the success of Bali’s tourism development had been the result of collaborative efforts between westerners, local government, entrepreneurs and artists.

“It is the fruit of the works of many,” he said in a recent seminar on tourism.

Darma Putra paid special attention to the role influential female figures had played in the rise of the island as the world’s top tourist destination.

“Many women, both expat and local, have played a significant role in Bali’s tourism development. Their contributions, however, are still largely overlooked,” he said.

He identified at least five powerful women, who lived in different time periods, to support his narrative.

“These are the women who have contributed to the development of Bali’s tourism from the 1930s to 2010s. They are K’tut Tantri, Ni Pollok, Mirah Astuti Kompiang, Ni Made Masih and Janet de Neefe.”

K’tut Tantri was a Scottish-born American writer-journalist who came to Bali in 1932. She built the first hotel in Kuta, Suara Segara (now Inna Kuta Beach). She sided with the Indonesian fighters during the war of independence and later on penned Revolt in Paradise, a book based on her personal experiences in Bali.

Ni Pollok, a beautiful Balinese dancer, became the model, wife and muse of Belgian painter Adrien Jean Le Mayeur De Merpres. In 1932, Pollok performed in Singapore as part of Le Mayeur’s painting exhibition and promoted Bali overseas through art exhibitions and performances.

“The third woman is Anak Agung Mirah Astuti Kompiang, who, with her husband in 1956, established Segara Beach Hotel, the first hotel in Sanur. The hotel is still in operation. She initiated Balinese cultural nights at the hotel, opening art shops and later on expanding her business to exporting handicrafts. Astuti also led several Balinese dance groups overseas.”

In 1967, Ni Made Masih opened a simple warung (food stall) near the famous Kuta Beach, which at that time was a quiet shore frequented by surfers only. She married a Dutchman, Peter Steenbergen, and the couple later developed Made’s Warung, a diner that soon became an iconic Kuta establishment.

The fifth woman was Janet de Neefe, an Australian woman married to Ketut Suardana, a wealthy businessman and native of Ubud. The couple run several successful diners in Ubud, including Casa Luna and Indus. In 2004, De Neefe founded the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, declared as “One of the six best literary festivals in the world” by UK’s Harper’s Bazaar. The annual festival has now become the country’s largest and longest running international literary gathering. The festival adds to the fame of Ubud as one of the best tourist destinations in Asia. She also penned Fragrant Rice, a book that introduces the rich Balinese culture through its traditional cuisine.

Anak Agung Mirah Astuti Kompiang, who now leads life as a Hindu high priestess, said that she was flattered at being identified as an influential individual in the island’s tourism history. She stated, however, that many things had changed, and some, unfortunately, for the worse.

“The current tourism development lacks of clear planning and the island is obviously overloaded,” she said.