The Magical World of Janet DeNeefe and Ketut Suardana in Bali, Indonesia

As summer vacation has begun, this time of enchantment, love and travel feels like the perfect time to focus on a couple whose lives truly symbolize the spirit of the season — Australian Janet DeNeefe and Balinese Ketut Suardana, the duo behind some of the most magical dining and hospitality businesses in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

A native of Melbourne, Australia, Janet DeNeefe found herself captivated with Bali when she first traveled to the island with family in 1974, and on a return trip in 1984, fell in love once again — this time, with a particular person, as described by an article published on the Four Seasons:

She met a Balinese man named Ketut, who at the time owned a successful art gallery and was studying political science in Denpasar. Within five years, she had moved there, the pair had wed, and they had opened their first restaurant, Lilies, on Monkey Forest Road.

DeNeefe had also fallen in love with Ubud, its people and the idea of helping visitors find their own love of her adopted hometown. This passion would transform DeNeefe into a tireless mini mogul, in a town where most expats are on permanent holiday.

Janet DeNeefe and Ketut Suardana went on to open Casa Luna and the Indus Restaurant, both premier dining spots in Bali, along with the top-rated Honeymoon Guesthouse. DeNeefe also launched the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in the 2000s and, more recently, the Ubud Food Festival. Some have dubbed her the “Queen of Ubud” and even compared her fairytale life to the acclaimed memoir Eat, Pray, Love (though it’s worth noting Janet DeNeefe wrote her own memoir titled Fragrant Rice).

In an interview in the Honeycombers, DeNeefe speaks of how the love between her and Ketut has evolved over the years:

Ketut, my husband – he’s around somewhere! We survive by staying out of each other’s hair. 80 percent of stuff we agree to, the other 20 percent we definitely don’t! You’re never going to be completely in tune after all. As you get older, it’s a different sort of love; it’s a deeper, more solid sense of security – where you know that you belong. It’s about having a family and being happy together.

She also told the Honeycombers she considers her sense of humor vital in life.

I can laugh my way through anything, which works in Bali because there’s a real kind of ribald, slapstick humour here. After meeting my husband, our businesses grew, our families grew, and that was that!

You can explore the creations of Janet DeNeefe and Ketut Suardana by visiting the websites for Casa Luna (which served up some of the most memorable meals I enjoyed on two trips to Bali), the Indus Restaurant, and the Honeymoon Guesthouse. To learn more about Janet DeNeefe, visit her website or pick up a copy of her memoir Fragrant Rice.

What do you think about Janet DeNeefe and Ketut Suardana?

Untung Surapati: From Forbidden Romance to Rebellion in Colonial Indonesia

A forbidden love affair between an enslaved man in colonial Indonesia and a young Dutch woman marked the beginning of a life of anti-imperial rebellion, propelling him into Indonesian history as a powerful national hero known as Untung Surapati.

Untung Surapati, born in 1660, most likely in Bali, was sold during his childhood as a slave to the Dutch military officer Deler Mur, who happened to have a daughter, Suzanne. Stories claim Surapati and Suzanne grew close through association and, eventually, fell into some kind of romantic attachment. But they happened to live in Batavia of the Dutch East Indies, which would enact one of the first anti-miscegenation laws (prohibiting marriage between Europeans and enslaved locals). Whether or not Surapati and Suzanne actually married depends on your source (and many draw upon the rich folklore and legends swirling about Surapati and his legacy). Still, any such relationship, official or not, would have violated Dutch authority.

According to Identity in Asian Literature, which summarizes the historical facts of Surapati’s life, “Gathering a band of loyal followers, Surapati subsequently fled to the mountainous tract of West Java.” Some versions of Surapati’s past give a more dramatic take on the consequences of the illegal tryst — that Surapati landed in jail where, like another Spartacus, he would come to ignite a slave revolt, leading his fellow men out of prison in noble opposition to the Dutch colonists.

Regardless, Surapati would go on to continue his rebellion against the Dutch East Indies, with notable success, as described in Identity in Asian Literature:

With his band he proceeded first to Cirebon and then to Kartasura where he was welcomed by the Sushunan of Mataram and granted a village near the raton. In 1686 Dutch troops under Commander Tack, were dispatched to Kartasura in order to intimidate Sushunan and to arrest Surapati. They were, however, defeated and Tack was killed, after which Surapati moved on to East Java where he founded a kingdom at Pasuruhan. Repeated Dutch attempts to oust him were to no avail. He ruled more or less undisturbed until 1705. … A gauge to the threat posed by Surapati comes from the fact that when the Dutch forces were finally victorious [against Surapati and his sons] they desecrated his grave, burned his remains, and scattered the ashes.

It’s no wonder that Indonesia has extolled Untung Surapati as a shining example in history.

You can learn more about Untung Surapati (including his brief ties with Suzanne) through the books Identity in Asian Literature and Surapati: Man and Legend, or explore additional narratives of Untung Surapati in this paper and through this short story.

P.S.: If you’re interested in posts like this, peruse the AMWF History archives for more, including stories of Australian women who pushed for Indonesian independence alongside their Indonesian husbands.