Home AsiaIndonesia Tribal chiefs and escaping teens. Sunrise Gili Air, Indonesia

Tribal chiefs and escaping teens. Sunrise Gili Air, Indonesia

by Heini Hirvonen
Tarinoiden taival:FacebooktwittermailFacebooktwittermail

It was fascinating to hear about the life behind the scenes at the paradise hotel Sunrise Gili Air. As a European, the first thing you think of isn’t exactly clinking sabers with the tribal chiefs. Do you dare to keep reading?

Few hotels seep straight through the skin. At few hotels do you get so comfortable that leaving is hard. We wanted to know more about this place. I sit at the beach bar with the owner lady of Sunrise Gili Air, sipping cappuccino. Kirsten begins to tell me about hotel life and the cultural differences between Westerners and Indonesians.

  • 20160513-003417-IN
  • 20160511-120727-IN
  • 20160509-040947-IN
  • 20160505-062612-IN

A story about men and women

A striking percentage of the people working with tourists at Gili Islands are men. The waiters, construction workers, janitors, cooks – almost all of them men. The paradise-like Gili Islands: Trawangan, Meno and Gili Air are located a few hours boat ride away from the more liberal-minded Bali, but Gili is situated right next to conservative Lombok. The reason for the male dominance has to do especially with the conservative attitudes of Lombok; with the influence of the main religion, Islam; and with traditions. Every local is a member of a tribe that’s lead by a tribal chief.

Gili Islands are, according to tribal chiefs and family men, places where ”tourists run half-naked.” This, in turn, is not an appropriate place for local women. On the other hand, there are normal families on the island and we didn’t encounter a single burka. Some locals covered their hair with a scarf, but none of the few women working with tourists did. These women are, as a rule, unmarried. After getting married the work pretty much ends, because a woman needs the husband’s permission to work. You can probably guess whether getting that permission comes easily…

  • 20160509-043210-IN
  • 20160505-061843-IN
  • 20160505-061609-IN
  • 20160505-061020-IN

A story about Indonesian teen love

People get married young in and around Lombok. A boy can take a girl out on a date during daylight,
but no intimate contact is allowed. If the father feels that the girl is brought back home too late – say, at 6:30PM at night – the couple must get married. Sleeping overnight is absolutely out of the question before marriage. So how do you date here? Young people are known for being inventive when it comes to getting to the object of their fancy. A girl can, for example, go sleep with a girlfriend of hers and wait until the parents make a check-up call or two. Then it’s time to sneak out of the friend’s house and to the boy’s, and then head somewhere safe to spend the night. The story doesn’t reveal whether the boy’s parents’ are in on the scheme… Some of the marriages are still arranged, but there is a growing amount of marriages that happen out of love.

There is a bride price, or a bride token, that is paid to the in-laws. The bride’s parents decide on a fitting sum, which is then negotiated. One of the local young men whom we encountered started the negotiations at 40
million rupees and ended up at 6 million. This sum – equivalent to 400 euros – is a lot of money on the local pay

  • 20160509-043202-IN
  • 20160430-114621-IN
  • 20160430-105805-IN
  • 20160430-093346-IN

A story about the power of tribal chiefs

I got hung up on the concept of tribal chief, which felt unfamiliar and somehow – well, African. What kind of a power do these people, the elderly of the village, possess? Kirsten lets out a dry laugh, leans back and says, ”Guess how many of the hotel’s 90 workers have been here since last September?”


The owner couple had noticed problems with some of the older employees and decided to take a new direction in motivating and guiding the employees. They hired a highly qualified and strict woman named Udina from the island of Java to be the hotel executive. The tight regime did not please the men and they went to the tribal chief and told him that they could not possibly receive these kinds of orders from a woman. The tribal chief came to talk to the hotel owners and announced that the woman must leave. After negotiations the owner couple said that this behavior discriminated women and that they had no intention of getting rid of a skillful employee because of the reasons presented to them.

The story gets even more strange. The tribal chief proclaimed in a dictator-like way that if the woman would not leave, he would order the rest of the personnel to go on strike. All 90 employees would up and leave, if the woman would not pack her belongings. And this really was what happened. In September 2015, 81 employees marched out and only 9 loyal workers stayed to run the fully booked hotel.


Imagine a situation where 9 people take care of 90 people’s jobs. The restaurant had to be closed. The owners bought and dealt out breakfast vouchers from a nearby restaurant. Cleaning, hotel reservations and all other hotel activities relied on a few people. At this point the employees who stayed began receiving threatening text messages. The messages warned that if the employees wouldn’t resign, their families would be killed. For real. Police from outside of the island had to be called in to investigate. The situation calmed down for a moment and then a new wave began. A rumor started spreading according to which the hotel was anti-Islam. The police was called back in.


How did this unbelievable saga end? Pretty well. Nobody died, Udina stayed as executive, 81 employees left and
they were replaced by people from the outside. The hotel stayed up and kept running without the tourists noticing a thing. There is a truce with the tribal chief. The situation was so stressful, however, that after six months Udina decided to leave the island and switch jobs. So who won?

  • 20160502-065934-IN
  • 20160430-093827-IN
  • 20160430-065807-IN
  • 20160430-081019-IN

A story about money

So what are job interviews like in Indonesia? Blunt, I heard. The potential employees always have two questions to begin with. First one is about the pay .The second one is how much ”food money” they’ll get. Food plays a very important part in Indonesia and therefore there isn’t only one total pay sum, but each employee also gets to take with her or him a daily amount of cash – ”food money” – which is for eating that day. This money you don’t take with you home.


Follow your dreams. This reads on the pages of the notebook that’s from Sunrise Gili Air. How far are you willing to follow yours and defend them?

Why our choice was Sunrise Gili Air

  • The beautiful bungalows were spacious and decorated with good taste, and especially the bigger condos facing the sea were luxurious. Downstairs has sleeping space with ventilation. The bathroom is under the sky and upstairs has a nice area with hammocks and couches for hanging out partly under the stars
  • Heavenly breakfast. In addition to Asian noodle breakfast and the basic toast and bacon, there are homemade croissants, yoghurt, muesli, and fruit.
  • A handy sun deck which is practically above the sea and next to the delicious Le Cirque restaurant whose desserts are almost too good.
  • Sunrise Gili Air is convenient for families with kids. Alternating between the sea and the pools is fast. The hotel food is also so good, that you’ll often find yourself eating there.
  • The coral reef with its colorful fish is right in front of the hotel, on a prime spot. All you need to do is get in the water with a mask, snorkels and flippers.
  • The service is really friendly and the hotel personnel is genuinely present.
  • True to its name, fabulous sunrises that you can enjoy from your own bungalow.
  • The hotel’s homepage can be found at: www.sunrisegiliair.com
  • Read more about the hotel from Miika and Gia’s fabulous blog post (in Finnish)Unelma, paratiisi ja hotelli –Sunrise Gili Air.

You may also like

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.