Between the walls of traditional family compounds in the village of Marga, there are some beautifully shaded roads – but this town wasn’t always so peaceful. On 20 November 1946, a much larger and better-armed Dutch force, fighting to regain Bali as a colony after the departure of the Japanese, surrounded a force of 96 independence fighters. The outcome was similar to the puputan (warrior’s fight to the death) of 40 years earlier – Ngurah Rai, who led the resistance against the Dutch (and later had the airport named after him), was killed, along with every one of his men. There was, however, one important difference – this time the Dutch suffered heavy casualties as well, and this may have helped weaken their resolve to hang on to the rebellious colony.
The independence struggle is commemorated at the Margarana, northwest of Marga village. Tourists seldom visit, but every Balinese schoolchild comes here at least once, and a ceremony is held annually on 20 November. In a large compound stands a 17m-high pillar, and nearby is a museum with a few photos, homemade weapons and other artefacts from the conflict (Ngurah Rai’s quote-worthy last letter includes the line: ‘Freedom or death!’). Behind is a smaller compound with 1372 small stone memorials to those who gave their lives for the cause of independence – they’re headstone markers in a military cemetery, though bodies are not actually buried here. Each memorial has a symbol indicating the hero’s religion, mostly the Hindu swastika, but also Islamic crescent moons and even a few Christian crosses. Look for the memorials to 11 Japanese who stayed on after WWII and fought with the Balinese against the Dutch.