Bali: 700 Year Old Village Keeps Culture Alive While Welcoming Tourists

Karangasem Side Trip Part 2

Tenganan  is one of the oldest villages of the Bali Aga, Bali’s original inhabitants. By opening their village to tourists, villagers are able to keep their traditions alive while earning an income by selling traditional handicrafts.

The Bali Aga, or Bali Mula, are descendants of the original pre-Hindu inhabitants of the Island of the Gods. Most of the Bali Aga reside in the regency of Karangasem on the island’s Eastern tip.

Tenganan Pegringsingan, which is located 4 kilometres inland from Candidasa, is the largest, most famous, and best preserved Aga village in Bali.

Tenganan is also the most touristy Aga village in Bali (or so the guide books tell me), but that does have an upside.

In addition to being the most touristy Bali Aga village, Tenganan is reputedly the most welcoming Aga village.

That means you will get to take as many photos as you like, you will get to buy time-honoured handicrafts, and you might even be welcomed into village homes, as I was during my very pleasant 2-hour visit.

I was taken to Tenganan by Penelope Williams, Executive Chef and Director of the Bali Asli Restaurant and Cooking School in Gelumpang Village.

Penny took me to the village following our early morning trip to the market in Amlapura to buy ingredients for the day’s lunch at her restaurant, which serves traditional and authentic Balinese cuisine in stunningly beautiful surroundings.

Welcome to Tenganan Village

After dropping off the ingredients at the restaurant and briefing kitchen staff on the day’s menu, Penny drove me to the 700-year-old walled Bali Aga village.

Made Kodok, a youthful Village Elder, was waiting for us when we arrived. After we signed a guest book and made a donation, he escorted us into the village, where a flurry of activity was taking place.

Old buildings were being renovated, new buildings were being built. In retrospect, it’s all sort of a blur.

Going through the photos that I took, however, I see that the village has essentially retained its rustic air. It has not been overly “prettified” for the sake of tourists. This is most certainly not Bali’s answer to Disneyland.

According to Made (which is pronounced mah-DAY, and means – according to Balinese tradition – that he is the 2nd (or 6th) born), the village is surrounded by a wall with 4 gates: North, South, East, and West.

The wall was originally built for the purpose of defense. Since the village was set amid hills, however, and since the villagers had no enemies, it was decided that if there were a need for villagers to defend themselves against enemies, it must be against the internal enemies that lurked within their own hearts.

Pretty philosophical, if you ask me!

Village Layout

Craftsmen make traditional handicrafts along the avenues, which run north to south through the village.Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

The village, which measures 500 metres by 250 metres, is laid out like a grid, with 3 broad “avenues” running north to south.

As we made our way north along one of the 2 avenues, Made pointed out the ceremonial long houses (to the West) and the houses that villagers lived in (to the East).

The most important long house was the Bale Agung, where the Council of Elders made decisions. Another long house housed objects used in festivals, which are an important part of Balinese culture.

Women were engaged in some kind of handiwork in another one of the long houses.

Shop Houses

Homes doubling as workrooms and shops line the main aveneues of the village.Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

Many of the villagers have turned their homes into workshops and sell the handicrafts that they produce in what used to be their living rooms. Often the villagers will demonstrate how their handicrafts are made to you.

Signs hung next to most of the doors informing passers-by what was for sale inside. And some of them reassured road-weary travellers that were would be no pressure to buy.

And here are a few of the things you will NOT see for sale: T-shirts-, tank-tops, key chains, and postcards. And I hope it STAYS that way!!!

If I remember correctly, the village was divided into 3 sections. The purest descendants of the original inhabitants of the village lived in nearly identical houses built along the sides of the 2 main avenues.

With modernization, an increasing number of villagers are marrying outside the village, and they live in a 2nd section. Those that have broken one of the village’s rules live in a 3rd section. Or maybe the 2 are mixed together.

Aking Longar

Traditional crafts continue to flourish in Tenganan. Local handicrafts include basket-making, egg painting, and “aking lontar”, which are drawings etched unto bamboo strips or palm leaves to produce books, calendars, and bookmarks.

I was attracted to one of the drawings. If I wanted to buy it, having my name inscribed at the bottom would be included in the price.

While Kodok took Penny and me on a tour of the village, the craftsman etched my name in both English and Balinese – and my website’s handle – into a box at the food of the engraving.

I wasn’t sure how “#ATWHK” would appear on this traditional piece of artwork, but it turned out much better than I had expected.

Geringsing

A special kind of cloth, which villagers believe that Indra, the Hindu lord of storms, taught their ancestors how to weave, is produced in the village, and it can take up to 7 years to produce a single piece of it.

According to Made, the colour actually intensifies with age. Needless to say, it is not exactly cheap.

Not to worry! If you can afford to buy one, it is said to protect the wearer from sickness and evil.

Known as “geringsing”, the fabric is produced according to the “double ikat” method, and the final pattern only appears after the weave is completed. It is only produced in 3 places: India, Japan, and the tiny village of Tenganan.

Tea Time

When we reached the apogee of the village, we took refuge in the shade of an ancient banyan tree. While Made continued to regale us with facts, figures, and anecdotes, Penny reached into her satchel and set out snacks and tea.

Penny must have been a Girl Scout when she was young! She is always prepared!

Doting Dad

We took a different avenue back to the van. On our way, we stopped at the house of a villager, who invited us inside.

As it turned out, he was involved in the construction of Penny’s restaurant. The front door of her restaurant, in fact, was an exact replica of the front door of his house.

As young man, the villager seemed to have one foot in the village and another foot in the outside world. He had his village responsibilities to attend to, but he was also trying to run a successful business.

While we chatted, his daughter woke up. Make that 3 responsibilities … he was also a doting dad!

 

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