Bali Ha'i

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"Bali Ha'i"
Song from South Pacific
Published 1949
Writer Oscar Hammerstein II
Composer Richard Rodgers

"Bali Ha'i", also spelled "Bali Hai", is a show tune from the 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific. The name refers to a mystical island, visible on the horizon but not reachable, and was originally inspired by sight of Ambae island in Vanuatu from Espiritu Santo, where author James Michener was stationed in World War 2.

In South Pacific[edit]

In the musical, Bali Ha’i is a volcanic island within sight of the island on which most of the action takes place. The troops think of Bali Ha’i as an exotic paradise, but it is off-limits – except to officers. The matriarch of Bali Ha’i, Bloody Mary, does a lot of business with the troops, and she meets Lt. Joseph Cable right after he arrives. She sings her mysterious song, Bali Ha’i, which has haunting orchestral accompaniment, to him because she wants to entice him into visiting her island. She doesn’t tell him that she wants him to meet, and fall in love with, her young daughter, Liat.

Several versions of this song made the best sellers list in 1949. Perry Como's version was the most successful at #5. Other versions appearing on the charts were Paul Weston and his Orchestra (#10), Bing Crosby (#12), Peggy Lee (#13), and Frank Sinatra (#18).[1] Andy Williams released a version on his 1958 album, Andy Williams Sings Rodgers and Hammerstein. Sergio Franchi included this song on his 1965 RCA Victor tribute to The Songs of Richard Rodgers.[2]

Connections to Aoba/Ambae, Tioman, Kauaʻi, and Treasury Islands[edit]

Bali Ha'i was based on the real island of Ambae (formerly Aoba Island). Ambae is located in Vanuatu (known as New Hebrides at the time the song was written).[citation needed]

Ambae is visible on the horizon from Espiritu Santo island, where James A. Michener was stationed in World War II. Michener is the author of Tales of the South Pacific which is the basis for the musical South Pacific. The author used the tranquil, hazy image of the smoothly sloping island on the horizon to represent a not-so-distant but always unattainable place of innocence and happiness. Hence the longing nature of the song.[citation needed] In his 1992 memoir, The World Is My Home, Michener writes of his time in the Treasury Islands: "On a rude signboard attached to a tree, someone had affixed a cardboard giving the settlement's name, and it was so completely different from ordinary names, so musical to my ear that I borrowed a pencil and in a soggy notebook jotted the name against the day when I might want to use if for some purpose I could not then envisage: Bali-ha'i."

In the 1958 film version, Bali Ha'i is portrayed by the real-life island of Tioman in Malaysia. However, the scene[clarification needed] was filmed on the north shore of Kauaʻi and Mount Makana was used as Bali Hai which is still known as Bali Hai today. Tunnel's Beach is often referred to as "Nurses' Beach" and the scene where Bloody Mary sings of Bali Ha'i takes place on Hanalei Bay.[citation needed]

Subsequent uses of name Bali Hai[edit]

Several products have adopted the name.


  1. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1986). Pop Memories 1890-1954. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research, Inc. p. 474. ISBN 0-89820-083-0. 
  2. ^ [1][dead link]
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  4. ^ Lusitain. "Bali Hai Cocktail Drink Recipe ¤ 1001 Cocktails". Retrieved 2012-01-15. 
  5. ^ p.134, Mendelson, Richard, From Demon to Darling: A Legal History of Wine in America, 2009, University of California Press
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