The traditional village is long and linear, with many beautifully executed dry stone walls and flagged paving.  Simple houses are made from bamboo and wood from the nearby forests. What is unique about the Bali Aga villages is the bale Agung, a long communal pavilion area in the village centre which serves as meeting place, eating place, and centre of ceremonies.

Text and Photos by Ayu Sekar

The traditional village is long and linear, with many beautifully executed dry stone walls and flagged paving.  Simple houses are made from bamboo and wood from the nearby forests. What is unique about the Bali Aga villages is the bale Agung, a long communal pavilion area in the village centre which serves as meeting place, eating place, and centre of ceremonies.

One day when we went to visit this unique place, we were surprised by a ceremony, with dozens of girls dressed in their traditional finery.  Tenganan is best known for its geringsing, a hand-woven cloth of double ikat, a skill known in only three places in the world – Japan, Gujarat in India (where the famous silk patola cloth originates) and right here in Bali.  Prices for a piece of this exquisite cloth are understandably high so to see a whole village dressed in pieces, is a special sight.

While the village has ceremonies throughout the year, their biggest celebrations lie in June or July when the usaba kasa  ceremony lasts for a week or more and draws visitors from near and far.  At this time there is dancing and strange ceremonies, as well as the biggest draw – the parang pandan, when the village’s best men are dressed in sarongs ready to beat each other with spiny pandan leaves.  This bizarre ceremony, although originally undergone to please the gods, is now equally pleasing to an overexcited crowd. 

Next came the Rejang (dance of the virgins) which was performed by the girls of the village and is far gentler. This sedate, formal dance is spectacular, mostly for the amazing headdresses, which can take days to produce as frangipani flowers are painstakingly folded into shapes and attached to the main frame which may include golden foil flowers and all kinds of other innovative ornaments.

As the stately dances drew to a close, the young village bachelors appeared, also wearing colourfully patterned geringsing and donning their best keris (ceremonial dagger).  The visual aesthetics and anticipation made this thrilling to behold.  But you had to be there.  After the gods had been entertained, energies balanced, offerings made, the girls went off to change for the next ceremony – lunch!

Reappearing minus the geringsing, they took to the bale agung where lunch was served megabung style, where five or six sit around a communal serving.

Tenganan is a perfect place to visit with its friendly inhabitants happy to show the special attributes of their homes. You may even buy a piece of hand-woven geringsing, so don’t forget to bring your wallet. 

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