The Tale of the First White Elephant in Bali by Nigel Mason, illustrated by David Barrett

Like all classic fairy tales, this children's book deals with such essential emotions as love, fear, danger and compassion, but also a wealth of cultural information about the spiritual and ritual life of the Balinese is imparted in the course of the telling.

As a bonus both adult and child learn about the behavioral psychology of Asian elephants, their use of ultrasound to communicate with other members of their species and even about their relationship with their handlers (mahouts).


A mixture of fact and fiction, the story is told with great humor. From the start The Tale of the First White Elephant in Bali captures your imagination and is difficult to put down until you reach the final chapter – a miraculous happy ending with the help of Ganesha, the Hindu god of wisdom and a rooster with a splendidly colorful tail.


The main characters are Rama, a sad-eyed cow with a crooked horn, and Rama, a one-tusked outcast elephant, both of whose loyalty and friendship are put to the test by a crisis. Published in both English and Indonesian, the book's 17 short chapters take only about 30 minutes to read.

The story takes place in the ancient village of Taro in north-central Bali. Taro is a magical place, high in the forested hills and surrounded by a small herd of holy white Brahman cattle - the perfect setting for such an imaginary tale of sacred white cow and a the first elephant in Bali.

The story is told by a successful Australian entrepreneur who has lived in Bali for almost three decades. Married to a Balinese, Nigel Mason understands the local Hindu culture and unique religion. Adding to his credentials is the fact that he is the father of two sons and a lay expert on Asian elephants. Nigel decided to write the book because of the dearth of books available in Bali that explain the island's culture to children.

nigel mason 

Nigel, who opened the Elephant Safari Park in 1997, is most famous as a rescuer of dozens of Asian elephants from Sumatra where they were kept hungry in squalid conditions, cursed as pests by local farmers. Nigel transported the gentle beasts over a distance of more than 1000 miles across three different islands.

The Tale of the First White Elephant in Bali takes place in modern times, and relates how Sumatran elephants were brought to Taro, why the decision was made, the arrival of the forlorn disheveled animals, how they soon grew to love their new home. At the same time, the tale is subtly interwoven with fantasy to delight a child.

The Elephant Safari Park has since become one of Bali's most popular tourist attractions. Nigel has worked tirelessly to create not only an natural wildlife experience for guests, but also a magnificent botanical garden setting for vistiors to enjoy. As Lawrence Blair says in the book's preface, "Nigel's Elephant Safari Park is a sort of five star hotel for pachyderms."

The wonderful illustrations have managed to capture the full essence of the tale and the island's cultural backdrop. Illustrator David Barrett was born in England and later was educated in Australia where he majored in draughting and technical drawing.

First distinguishing himself as a painter, David next took up cartooning which launched him into a career producing cartoon books, greeting cards and illustrated engineering and motorcycle training school handbooks. Currently based in Bali, the work on Nigel's book has provided David his first opportunity to further expand his drawing skills.

This beautifully illustrated children's book is a great read for the whole family, especially for primary school aged children 7-12 years old. The book has all the ingredients of the quintessential children's fairy tale while at the same time opens a window onto the everyday life of the Balinese.

The Tale of the First White Elephant in Bali by Nigel Mason, first edition, Adventure House 2007, ISBN 978-979-16857-0-2, hardback, 110 pages (66 pages of text and 44 pages in full color). Illustrated by David Barrett, design layout Brad Taylor, preface by author and filmmaker Lawrence Blair.

book white elephant

The English-language edition is available for Rp125,000 and the Indonesian language edition is priced at Rp100,000. The book can be purchased in Gramedia and Periplus bookstores, the Enchanted Bookstore in Seminyak, Ganesha Book Shop in Ubud  and at The Elephant Safari Park Boutique in Taro. Both versions are also available online at

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