Bali has long been reputed for its capacity to maintain a distinctive social and cultural “Balineseness” in face of sweeping change. One persistent component on anthropological lists of Balinese institutions has been the island's “ancestor cult,” often presented as a static custom of principally theological significance. This paper portrays some complexities in the formulation, maintenance, and recent intensification of ancestor lore in a particular group through time. Our subject is a large Sudra group in Tabanan district: how its members explain the origin of their house in the classical era, account for its trials and accomplishments during the Dutch colonial period (1906–1948), and with little sense of discontinuity justify its role in modern Balinese politics, from Indonesian independence through the national elections of 1971. We first detail legends, rituals, and stories—cultural forces in their own right–celebrating central ancestors and leaders from the group's classical, colonial, and modern history. We then describe practical social, political, and economic matters indirectly involved in these traditions. Finally, general conclusions are drawn regarding the significance of ancestors in Balinese society, where legends and rituals commemorating specific deceased leaders are no mere antiquarian escape from the present nor a pale reflection of more practical realities, but an active commentary on, and a contributing force to, a group's internal dynamics and self-esteem.

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