Bali Aga – Life in a Special Village
Just a kilometer or two outside Candidasa is a special place that inhabits a different world. While the modern world continues developing, constantly rushing by in its lemming-like road to destruction, the Bali Aga village of Tenganan continues on at its own placid place almost oblivious and totally disinterested in what lies outside.
Until the 1070’s Tenganan was considered by anthropologists to be one of the most closed societies in a country of exotic societies. While change, of course, has come since those long gone days, the village is still remarkably intact.
These Bali Aga are Bali’s original people who inhabited the island long before the 15C Majapahits came to establish their newer version of Bali.
Scattered in small communities in remote parts of Karangasem Regency, Pockets of Bali Aga survive, although mostly they have integrated with other groups rather than kept their unique culture and lifestyle intact.
The lives of the Tenganan folk are filled with ceremonies. Full moons, coming of age, harvest ceremonies, traditional rites of passage – they all call for spectacular celebrations. One of the most dramatic ceremonies is the “Perang Pandan” or as it is locally known “makare-kare” – part of the annual harvest festival. Some of the most beautiful are the events that include Rejang – the spectacular Dance of the virgins where girls dress in vibrantly coloured costumes of their beautiful handloom gerinsing textiles. Bedecked in gold and gerinsing they are the prime target of every photographer who makes it to the celebration.
The events calendar is marked almost every week, with a ceremony or celebration of some description. Some are small family affairs, while others like the big Odalan in June involves almost everyone in the sprawling village.
Tenganan is an area of great peace. The whole village lies within thick protective walls. Each gate is locked each night to keep out marauders and opened again after their day starts around 4am.
Every one in the village has a place and everyone has a function. People know who they are, so there is little need for policemen, and little need for strife and aggression. Life passes pleasantly in an endless round of rituals, which keeps idle hands busy making offerings and all the myriad preparations needed to keep everything running smoothly. The calm benign faces of the women, reflect a stress free life with no need to prove anything, or to manage a job, a career, family and all those other things that western women are expected to do.
Many of the women are expert weavers, creating pieces of gerinsing fabric – a double ikat weave that is favoured by textile collectors around the world. Tenganan is one of only three places that creates double ikat, the others being a region in Japan and the east Gujerat Coast in India. Handlooms are just one of the sources of income for the villagers.
Whether it is a time of ceremony, or just a normal day, Tenganan is always worth a visit. The chance to visit a different life thriving in the early 21st century is quite a thrill.
Text & Photos by Ayu Sekar