A documentary film about the many faces of love, betrayal and violence (81 min)


"An exposé and call for social reform in Bali, [director Robert] Lemelson offers an eye-opening look behind Bali's profile as a tourist Shangri-la."
-Sheri Linden, LA Times
"Doesn't belabor the latent subservience of these arrangements, nor does it need to-the women speaking about their marriages in a candid, conversational way say plenty."
-Michael Nordine, LA Weekly
"An informative look at how outdated traditions play out today."
- Joe DeFore, The Hollywood Reporter
"Forget the Bali you see in pictures, the shocking documentary “Bitter Honey” shows a side of the tropical paradise where polygamy and domestic abuse reigns."
-Dorri Olds, TheBlot Magazine
"Fascinating and undoubtedly important, this is a doc you'll want to keep an eye out for."
"An intimate and provocative film." -Rachel Cooper, Asia Society


Bitter Honey is a feature-length documentary presenting an intimate and emotionally charged portrait of three polygamous families in Bali, Indonesia. Following these families over a seven year period, the film portrays the plight of Balinese co-wives, for whom marriage is frequently characterized by psychological manipulation, infidelity, domestic violence, and economic hardship.
Living in a society where men have authority in many domains, these women have little voice in steering or protesting the conditions of their domestic lives. Bitter Honey draws attention to their struggle, documents the work of those taking steps to better protect and empower them, and aims to trigger a wider conversation about contemporary polygamy and women’s rights in Indonesia. (81 min)






Sang Putu TUAJI

Sang Putu Tuaji is a Balinese man in his eighties who has had ten wives, five of whom are still living. Closely related to a Balinese royal family, Tuaji was well known in his younger days as a powerful man whom few people in his village dared to cross. During the 1960s, when Bali was rocked by political turmoil that ended in the massacre of over 100,000 alleged communists, Tuaji was famous as a leader of a local anti-communist militia who, along with his sons, carried out the violent political agenda of the military and paramilitary forces in his neighborhood. He went on to become a village moneylender, earning both the allegiance and fear of those who used his services. Today, his wives and neighbors say that it was all those factors—his royal status, wealth, and a fearsome reputation for violence—that helped him to attract his wives. While some women sought him out for the high standard of living he promised, most of his wives felt that once he chose them, they had no choice but to comply.

Jero Ketut GATI, 5th wife

Gati is Tuaji’s 5th wife. When she first met Tuaji, she told him that she did not want to marry him, to which he responded, “I’ll find you even if you cross the ocean.” She felt as though she could not refuse him. Before getting married, she went to meet his other wives, and when new wives were acquired after her, she always helped prepare for their weddings. She now states that she does not regret marrying Tuaji.

Sang Ayu Ketut MANIS, 7th wife

When Manis was 22 years old, she became Tuaji’s 7th wife. She thought that he was very handsome and felt as though it would have been impossible to refuse him. In the beginning of her marriage, she felt strong jealousy towards her co-wives, but now those feelings have faded away.

Sayu Nyoman LANUS, 9th wife

When Lanus was of marrying age, there were many men who were interested in taking her as their bride. She chose to be marry Tuaji because she recognized that he was a very powerful man. When they got married, she became his 9th wife. As a Hindu, she believes that it was her fate to marry Tuaji.

Sang Ayu Ketut GIRIASTITI, 10th wife

Giriastiti was Tuaji’s sister-in-law before she became his tenth and final wife. That is to say, Tuaji’s seventh wife, Manis, is Giriastiti’s sister. When she was 20 years old, Tuaji asked her to marry him. Giriastiti said that she was not interested. Undeterred, Tuaji continued to pursue her and eventually sent Manis and three other wives to convince Giriastiti to marry him. She finally consented, because she was afraid of the consequences of refusing. At the time of their marriage, people in the village pitied her for being forced to marry somebody who was old enough to have been her grandfather. 


Made Darma claims he was destined to be polygamous. His father had four wives, and his mother lived through a series of marriages and divorces. After dropping out of high school he married his first wife, Kiawati, and moved in to her family compound. Made Darma found success and prestige in the informal economy, using his size, strength and natural charisma to carve himself a niche as a local tough—running gambling games, supervising cockfights, and providing private security services to local political gatherings. Now in his late forties, Made Darma has few regrets about his polygamous lifestyle. He runs his large household with a firm and sometimes violent hand, rotating his sexual affections among his wives according to a nightly schedule.

Ni Nyoman Kamareni KIAWATI, 1st wife (ex)

Kiawati is a strong, independent woman in her late forties. She married Made Darma while still in high school, at her parents’ urging. Because her parents had no sons, they wished to recruit Made Darma into a nyentana relationship: a man who marries into a woman’s family and takes on the role of the son of the house. Kiawati bore three children to Made Darma, one of whom died shortly after birth.

Ni Wayan SULASIH, 2nd wife

Sulasih is an outgoing woman in her forties. Captivated by Made Darma’s charm, she dated him for two years before he married both her and his third wife on the same day. Sulasih is a vocal supporter of polygamy. She emphasizes that Made Darma is fair with his wives, sharing his attention, money and sexual favors equally. She also appreciates the help of her co-wives around the house, which has allowed her to build her own business selling food and coffee at the local cockfights her husband organizes.

Ni Wayan RASTI, 3rd wife

Rasti is a vivacious woman in her early forties with a keen sense of humor. She and Made Darma had a whirlwind love affair that culminated in his proposal of marriage after only a few months. Rasti was shocked, however, when she arrived at Made Darma’s house for the wedding and found out that he was already living with Sulasih, and planned to marry them both at the same time. Today, Rasti laughs at the story of her wedding, and prides herself on no longer feeling any jealousy towards the other women her husband is involved with, both inside and outside the household. Rasti acknowledges that it’s sometimes difficult to get along with her co-wives, but she appreciates that their mutual cooperation allows her to work outside of the home as a chef at a well-known tourist restaurant. Rasti has two children, and has used her wages to build her own living space within the family compound. Her co-wives often say that she is Made Darma’s favorite wife.

Gusti Ayu SUCI ATI, 4th wife

Suci Ati is a sensitive, elegant,  soft-spoken high caste woman in her thirties. Made Darma spotted her while she was still a student with her heart set on going to university and becoming a tour guide. Eventually, Suci Ati found out that Made Darma was already married, and she tried to end their relationship. But one day while she was out shopping, he lured her into a car and took her to his house, where he forcibly married her, setting a group of his friends to stand guard outside of the bedroom door. Suci Ati cries telling the story of how the next day Made Darma sent word of the marriage to her shocked parents, and how in her shame and fear she felt that she had no choice but to stay with him. Today, Suci Ati and Made Darma have two children and she works at a silver factory. Suci Ati survives her polygamous marriage—and her traumatic memories of its beginnings—by focusing on educating her children and polishing her public image with expensive clothes and a brave smile, determined not to reveal her shame to the community.

Ni Nyoman PURNAWATI, 5th wife

Purnawati, the youngest of Made Darma’s wives, met her husband while she was still in junior high school. During their courtship, which she kept secret from her family, she was unaware that Made Darma already had multiple wives, only finding out after they had already been sexually intimate and she felt as though it was too late to turn back. Their marriage, when she was only 16 years old, outraged her family, who brought Made Darma to court for seducing an underage girl. He was sentenced to a number of weeks in jail for the offense. Purnawati decided to stay in her marriage when she realized that she was pregnant and her son would need a father’s name.


The eldest son of a polygamous rice farmer, Sadra is a Balinese man in his mid-forties with two wives and eight children. With a decent job and a house of his own, Sadra has enough resources to support his large family, but their many expenses put him in a state of constant economic worry. Sadra married his first wife, Ketut, when they were both in their teens, eloping against the wishes of her family. He describes their marriage as having been a good one until they began having children and his wife quit her job, straining the family’s finances. Sadra began secretly dating his second wife, Murni, keeping the affair from his first wife and also lying to Murni, who believed he was unmarried. After Murni became pregnant, Sadra forced Ketut to consent to a new marriage by threatening to send her home to her parents without her children. While Sadra does not believe polygamy to be inherently wrong, he admits to having deceived his wives and having allowed his desires to outweigh the greater good of his family.

Ni Ketut PURNIASIH, 1st wife

Sadra’s first wife, Ketut, is a gentle woman in her early forties. Although her parents were opposed to her dating Sadra, she was convinced to marry him when he came to her house crying and professing his love. Soon after moving into Sadra’s family home, however, Ketut began to see another side of Sadra, who would rage against his father and hit his mother when they failed to comply with his wishes. When Ketut became pregnant with their second child, Sadra became violent towards her as well, punching her in the face, beating her with sticks, kicking her, and threatening her with a knife. Ketut recalls being shocked and hysterical when Sadra broke the news that he was planning to marry his pregnant girlfriend. But Sadra’s threat to divorce her and send her back to her parents without her children if she did not allow a second marriage convinced Ketut that she had no choice but to stay.

Ni Ketut MURNI Agung, 2nd wife

Murni, Sadra’s second wife, is a strong-willed, college educated woman in her thirties with four children. While she projects a tough-skinned exterior, it was in part her tender-heartedness that drew her to Sadra, whom she felt sorry for, thinking he was “alone in the world” with no father, siblings, spouse or children—none of which was true. Rather than join Sadra’s household, Murni chose to live separately from her husband and co-wife, and continues to work to support herself and her growing family.




“The suffering started when I found out he already had many wives.”
-Purnawati, Darma's fifth wife
“If I didn’t allow him to marry again, I would have been sent home.”
-Purniasih, Sadra's first wife
“I heard that he didn’t have any family and he was all alone. I felt sorry for him.”
-Murni, Sadra's second wife
“We are responsible for the risks we take.”
-Murni, Darma's third wife
“As long as they want to be with me, I want them.”
-Made Darma, currently has four wives
“When I was dating my second wife, she didn’t know I was married.”
-Wayan Sadra, currently has two wives



We are currently in the early stages of setting up the first gender based violence program in Bali.

If you would like to help women in domestic violence situations and enable positive development, you can donate to the foundations below:
Bumi Sehat
Bumi Sehat Foundation International is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization registered in the United States of America. Our mission is to provide access to quality healthcare to families; and kind, hygienic and culturally appropriate childbirth to traditionally under-represented populations. Towards these goals, we provide health services, emergency care, education services and environmental programs. We are devoted to working in partnership with people to improve the quality of life and to build peace - one mother, one child, one family at a time.
Asia Foundation
Indonesia was recently ranked in the top 25 percent in the 2012 Open Budget Survey, which measures budget transparency, participation, and oversight in more than 100 countries around the world. Yet corruption, inequity, poverty, and decaying infrastructure are obstacles to Indonesia becoming fully open and thriving. Our programs strengthen the effectiveness of democratic institutions and legal and judicial systems, empower women’s political participation, and support environmental governance. Learn more about the Women's Empowerment Fund
Cherie Blair Foundation
We welcome contributions in all forms to help us provide the resources, skills and support needed for women to reach the next level – and in doing so benefit not just women entrepreneurs, but their children, families and communities at large. Whether through financial support, volunteering or in-kind donations, every contribution counts. Learn more about the Usaha Wanita Mobile Service in Indonesia


Robert Lemelson

Director & Executive Producer

Robert Lemelson is an anthropologist and documentary filmmaker whose work focuses on the relationship of culture, psychology and personal experience in Indonesia. Lemelson’s area of specialty is Southeast-Asian studies, psychological anthropology and transcultural psychiatry. He is currently an adjunct professor of anthropology at UCLA and a research anthropologist in the Semel Institute of Neuroscience at UCLA.

Alessandra Pasquino


Alessandra Pasquino has produced broadcast commercials, documentaries and special projects for over 10 years. She has collaborated with many filmmakers and artists including: Oliver Stone, Wayne Wang, Klaus Kinski, Gregory Colbert, Leonardo Di Caprio, Pietro Scalia and Matthew Rolston. She is currently a freelance documentary producer and independent filmmaker.

Chisako Yokoyama


Chisako Yokoyama has worked as an editor and assistant editor on studio motion pictures, independent features and narrative and documentary films. Her credits as editor include the English and Japanese language independent films “Saki,” “Takamine” and “Goemon” and as first assistant editor, “American Gangster,” “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “Black Hawk Down” and “Good Will Hunting.”

Wing Ko

Director of Photography

Wing Ko has collaborated with a who’s who of modern artists, musicians and filmmakers. He worked with Spike Jonze on several music videos and edited the pilot for MTV’s “Jackass.” Wing helped create more than 80 music videos for Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden, Public Enemy and other top bands of the time. For more than 15 years he has traveled around the world and crewed skateboard videos.

Malcolm Cross

Music Composer

Cross has been a professional composer for film, television and stage since 1996. He composed the score for “Oh Saigon” a feature-length documentary broadcast on the Sundance Channel. He scored the independent shorts “I Dream of Dog” and “Insomniac,” and wrote the theme and incidental music for the television series “America’s Prom Queen”.


I have been making documentary films in Indonesia for almost twenty years. After I made a film about the mass killings that occurred there in 1965-66 I began to investigate political brutality, in particular the horrific mass rapes that occurred during the 1998 economic crisis and the fall of the Suharto regime. Realizing that this episode of violence was only one piece of the larger puzzle of gender inequality in Indonesia today, I began to interview a number of women who had suffered domestic violence or abuse. Some of these women were Balinese and a number of them turned out to be part of polygamous families.

I overcame some initial hesitance to start a project about polygamy because, trained as an anthropologist, I was reluctant to portray a kind of marriage that certain audiences might judge negatively. But I soon realized that the emotional stories these wives have to tell held a powerful message about the relationships between men and women and the ways social rules and structures can put women at a disadvantage—or even trap or subjugate them.

For the families I got to know, ongoing male domination and control determine the course of women’s domestic, intimate, and economic lives. Yet in this and other ways, polygamous unions are similar to typical marriages. The struggles of polygamous wives are simply an extension of the overall diminished sense of choice and agency that women still experience in many public and private spheres. Yet this film shows that there are potential solutions and tangible ways to improve the conditions that cause women to suffer.

I was lucky to work with a team of Balinese collaborators who advised me in making this film. We hope that it accurately portrays the complexities of the lives of these families. For Balinese viewers, film screenings with activists have already spurred discussions amongst women about their options and the opportunities for empowerment and positive change in their lives. For others it will offer a window into a world rarely seen, or seen accurately, by outsiders.





Fields marked with a * are required.


  • Days of Ethnographic Film, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2015
  • FIFEQ, Montreal, Quebec, 2015
  • AAS Film Expo, Chicago, 2015
  • ETNOFILM, Croatia, 2015
  • RAI International Festival of Ethnographic Film, Bristol, UK, 2015
  • Tiburon Film Society, Sausalito, CA, 2015
  • Taiwanese International Ethnographic Film Festival, Taipei, Taiwan, 2015
  • RAI International Festival of Ethnographic Film at USC, Los Angeles, 2016


  • Soci­ety for Psy­cho­log­i­cal Anthro­pol­ogy Bien­nial Con­fer­ence, San Diego, CA, 2013
  • Hamp­shire Col­lege, Amherst, MA, 2013
  • Future of Monogamy and Nonmonogamy Conference, Berkeley, CA, 2015



  • UCLA Mind, Med­i­cine and Cul­ture Group, Los Ange­les, CA, 2012
  • Asia Society, New York, NY, 2014
  • Clinton Global Initiative, NY, 2014


  • "An exposé and call for social reform in Bali, [director Robert] Lemelson offers an eye-opening look behind Bali's profile as a tourist Shangri-la."-Sheri Linden, LA Times. Read the full review
  • "An informative look at how outdated traditions play out today" - Joe DeFore, The Hollywood Reporter. Read the full review
  • "Forget the Bali you see in pictures, the shocking documentary “Bitter Honey” shows a side of the tropical paradise where polygamy and domestic abuse reigns." -Dorri Olds, TheBlot Magazine. Read the full review
  • UCLA Newsroom
  • "Fascinating and undoubtedly important, this is a doc you'll want to keep an eye out for." -Indiewire
  • "An intimate and provocative film." -Rachel Cooper, Asia Society


Weiman Seid




RAI International Festival of Ethnograph Film – OFFICIAL SELECTION

We are pleased to announce that Bitter Honey is an official selection of the Royal Anthropological Institute's (RAI) International...
by elemental

Portland Premiere

Join us on Sunday, November 30, 2014 for the 4:30pm screening followed by a Q&A session with Director Robert Lemelson and Rebecca...
by elemental

Salt Lake City Premiere

Join us on Friday, November 14, 2014 for the 7pm screening followed by a conversation with Director Robert Lemelson and Broadcaster/Journalist...
by elemental

DC Premiere

Join us on Friday, November 7, 2014 for the 7:20pm* screening followed by a conversation with Director Robert Lemelson and moderated...


Elemental Productions is a documentary film production company based in Los Angeles that is dedicated to making documentary films on social and cultural issues in Southeast Asia and the United States. The company was founded in 2007 by anthropologist Robert Lemelson, and evolved out of years of fieldwork and thousands of hours of footage gathered in 1997.