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Lontar Ancient Balinese Palm Scripts  

by on Saturday, 18 November 20062 Comments | 4,048 views

Man has always had the foresight to realize the importance of recording details for future preservation. History indicates that long before paper was invented, man attempted to leave his mark by etching on cave walls and pieces of stone. Another form of documentation that is thought to have been initiated within the Nusantara archipelago, which is now known as Indonesia, was the tradition of writing on pieces of palm leaf known as lontar.


In the era of the great kingdoms in regions such as Java and Bali, lontar manuscripts were extremely popular. Allegedly, during this time learning from the lontar was only permitted for certain groups of scholars and forbidden amongst the common people. The lontar manuscripts contained ancient wisdoms and made reference to the plight of living during those times. They also enclosed secret texts about the teachings of black magic that only a select few were privileged to read in the fear of misappropriation. Such lontar works are now quite rare and in a situation to valuable artworks, many have been traded by collectors and museums worldwide.


In Bali, the tradition of writing and also reading lontar has been maintained through until present times. Several art shops at the Kumbasari and Sukawati markets deal exclusively in lontar art and its function has changed from a means of recording information to pieces that are purely decorative.


The leaves that are taken from the tree of the lontar palm are commonly found in Karangasem in the east part of Bali. Here the village of Sidemen is renowned for those versed in the art of lontar writing. Lontar artisans normally work from home and they spend hours painstakingly etching the ancient scripts along with accompanying illustrations. Many artisans recreate fables and folk stories, as well as work on traditional Balinese calendars.



Pieces of palm leaf are shaped into rectangles and both sides are utilized where the text takes up one side and the supporting illustration is featured on the reverse. A lontar writer works with a specially sharpened tool that scratches the surface of the leaf. Upon completion the etched work is coated with a naturally coloured paste made from ground kemiri nuts. Some pieces of lontar are finished by stringing lengths of thread through small holes pierced into the edge of the leaf so that it opens up like the pages of a book.


There is a collection of old lontar that has been preserved as relics of Balinese history in the Gedong Kirtya Museum in Singaraja. These ancient manuscripts contain valuable life lessons and are kept in a temperature-controlled room to safeguard them for future generations. The philosophical and moral values contained within these lontar have been transcribed in books and now on a computer data base to ensure that the wisdoms of Bali’s ancestors will never be forgotten.


Photos are taken from,,

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