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BALI: Tropical Paradise or Misogynist Land of Abuse and Polygamy? A New Film Depicts the Reality

Darma with four of his wives

Women in Bali are tricked into Polygamist Marriages

Most Americans think of Bali as a vacation spot, a glorious land of tropical trees, blooming flowers and waterfalls. What most don’t know is that underneath that honeymoon exterior lurks a dark interior.

Bitter Honey” is a portrait of three polygamous families in Bali, Indonesia. Filmmaker and archeologist Robert Lemelson spent seven years with three families. His documentary shines the light on the shocking plight of co-wives in Bali. Many were tricked into a polygamist marriage. They only found out about the other wives after they married.


Robert Lemelson. Photo: Dorri Olds



The co-wives are not only psychologically manipulated, they are treated with no respect, their husbands are not faithful outside of the marriages and the co-wives are subjected to cruelty and domestic violence. Why do they stay? Mostly because they are trapped financially. They’d have no way to care for their children if they left. They are also terrified. After years of abuse, their self-esteem has been beaten along with their bodies.

In addition, there is societal pressure. The message to women is that they don’t matter and have no rights and that’s just the way it is. Thankfully, people like Lemelson have taken interest and actions to help the women. It is only recently that Balinese women are beginning to see that they, too, need to take action together.

By Dorri Olds

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