History

In the early 17th century, Balinese warriors overthrew Lombok’s Sasak royalty in the west, while the Makassarese invaded from the east. By 1750, the whole island was dominated by Bali’s Hindu monarchy. In western Lombok, relations between the Balinese and the Sasaks were relatively harmonious, but in eastern Lombok peasant rebellions were common.

The Dutch intervened in the late 19th century and, after an initial defeat that cost 100 lives, they took control of Cakranegara. Here the last raja families were made martyrs during a grizzly perang poepoetan ritual in which men, women and children in white robes threw themselves upon perplexed Dutch soldiers, who shot to kill. Afterwards, the Dutch galvanised the support of the surviving Balinese and the Sasak aristocracy and soon controlled more than 500,000 people with 250 troops.

Even after Indonesian independence, Lombok continued to be dominated by its Balinese and Sasak elite. In 1958, Lombok was declared part of the new province of Nusa Tenggara Barat (West Nusa Tenggara) and Mataram became its administrative capital. Following the attempted coup in Jakarta in 1965, Lombok experienced mass killings of communists and ethnic Chinese.

Under president Suharto’s ‘New Order’, there was stability and some growth, but crop failures led to famine in 1966 and to severe food shortages in 1973. Many moved away from Lombok under the government-sponsored transmigrasi program, a scheme that encouraged settlers to move from overcrowded regions to sparsely populated ones.

Tourism picked up in the 1980s but was mostly developed by outside investors and speculators. Indonesia descended into economic crisis and political turmoil in the late 1990s, and on 17 January 2000, serious riots engulfed Mataram. Christians and Chinese were the primary victims, but the agitators were from outside Lombok. Ultimately all Lombok suffered, and the faint pulse of tourism was muted further by the Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005.

Then something miraculous happened: Lombok took off. Bali’s booming tourism spilled over, big time. The Gili Islands, once a backpacking and diving stronghold, began setting new tourism records every year, with an influx of partying tourists, villa developers and families eager to play on the car-free isles. Development also swept through the mainland, especially in the south where the gorgeous beaches east and west of Kuta were seen as a bonanza.

The boom times slowed ever so slightly in the wake of three powerful earthquakes that rocked Lombok in July and August of 2018. The first forced a mass evacuation of Gunung Rinjani, while the second saw more than a thousand tourists scrambling for boats off the Gili Islands. When all was said and done, an estimated 80% of all structures in North Lombok were damaged and some 563 people killed. Recovery on the Gili Islands and Senggigi was relatively swift, but the hard-hit towns at the base of Rinjani were left to pick up the pieces and build anew.