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Tenganan Pegeringsingan  

by on Tuesday, 27 June 2006No Comment | 5,010 views

This is an original pre-Hindu Balinese settlement, long a stronghold of native traditions, about halfway between Padangbai and Amlapura (67 km northeast of Denpasar). At the end of an asphalt country road up a narrow valley, Tenganan is far removed from the Javano-Balinese regions of Bali. Like Trunyan on Lake Batur to the northwest, this small village is inhabited by the Bali Aga, aboriginal Balinese who settled the island long before the influx of immigrants from the decaying 16th– century Majapahit Empire. It might appear to be a stage managed tourist site but is actually a living, breathing village-the home of farmers, artists, and craftspeople.

The lowland people of Tenganan have preserved their culture and way life through the conviction they’re descended from gods. They practice a religion based on tenets dating from the kingdom of Bedulu, established before the Hindus arrived. Tenganan origins can be traced back to the holy text Usana Bali, which states they must tend their consecrated land to honor the royal descendants of their creator, Batara Indra. Though Tenganan is today Hindu, it is also unmistakably Polynesian.

Except for such visual blights as the row of green power poles down the center of the village’s unique pebbled avenues, Tenganan is a living museum in which people lives and work frozen in a 17th-century lifestyle, practicing their own architecture, kinship system, religion, dance, and music. Signs of the 20th century are a public telephone just inside the entrance, TV antennas on bamboo poles piercing the thatch rooftops, and the occasional tinny sound of a cassette recorder or radio.

Inhabited by a sort of “royalty” of proud villagers, Tenganan is one of the most conservative Bali Aga villages on the island, and perhaps the only one with a completely communal society. All village property and large tracts of the surrounding land belong to the whole community in a sort of “village republic.” Most of these rich rice lands (over 1.000 hectares) are leased to and worked by sharecroppers from other villages, who receive half the harvest. This leaves Tenganians villagers are among the wealthiest on Bali.

About 106 families with a total of 49 children live in Tenganan-a significant drop from the estimated 700 at the turn of the century. A council of married people decides the legal, economic, and ritual affairs of the village (village headman Mangku Widia will provide details on Tenganian adapt). The village customary law prohibits divorce or polygamy, and until recently only those who married within the village called Banjar Pande. By the 1980s, this custom resulted in Tenganan achieving less than zero population growth, a result of inbreeding. Mandates from the gods were recently reinterpreted, allowing villagers who marry outside the clan to stay, provided the spouse undergoes a mock cremation ritual from which he or she is brought back as a Tenganian.


Tenganan is an architecture wonder, one of the few places on Bali with a pre-Hindu South Seas pagan feel. Here you’ll see ancient courtyard walls, pavilion temples, magnificent community halls, and old high-based longhouses, all built in a powerful, very masculine, crude “aristocratic” style. These extraordinary structures come straight from the island’s casteless prehistory. Note the number of homes with dog doors built into the stone facade.

Scholars theorize Tenganan’s classical linear village layout, walled mountain-style courtyard dwellings, and ceremonial longhouses suggest the village was once located farther up the valley. Village legends of landslides and sudden evacuations lend credence to this theory.

Longhouses are actually the equivalent of southern Bali’s Bale banjar where meetings, weddings, and banquets take place and where the village gamelan is stored. Longhouses are still widespread in a number of isolated, animist, and agricultural on Kalimantan and Sumatra.






The most striking feature of this 700-year-old walled village is its layout, totally different from any other community on Bali. Rectangular in shape (250-by-500 meters, about six hectares or 15 acres), Tenganan shares many characteristics with primitive villages on Nias and Sumba. Today there are three broad parallel avenues running along the same axis as Gunung Agung and the sea, lined with walled living compounds of nearly identical floor plans. The eastern street, which tourists rarely visit, is accessed through the lower parking lot. There are also three streets running east to west. The wide, stone-paved north-south streets, which serve as village commons, rise uphill in tiers so the rain flows down, providing drainage. Each level is connected by steep cobbled ramps. The only entrance to this fortress like village is through four tall gates placed at each of the cardinal points (prior to Indonesian independence, Tenganan was surrounded by a high wall). The main entrance is the south, home to the highest concentration or souvenir stalls.

Villagers live in brick and mortal longhouses. Handsome ceremonial pavilions and giant grain storehouses run down the center of the widest avenue. There are also open kitchens and bale, administration buildings, the kulkul, an elementary school, wantilan, and a playing field, all arranged in a long neat row. Pigs wander peacefully and water buffalo graze on the lawns. At the south end is the long bale agung, site of all important village events and discussions; here you may see half the men in the village watching TV. In back of the village is a black atap-roofed temple, Pura Jero, set under a huge waringin tree, is Pura Puseh (temple of origins). Here also is the village cemetery. Don’t miss Tenganan Tukad, a smaller version of Tenganan to the east; amazing ceremonies.

Village Life

Much of live revolves around souvenir selling. The people have completely adapted to the tourist economy; nowadays tables selling palm leaf books are set up at intervals the whole length of the main street. Nearly every home seems to hold a display room or Bale. The young men are cool dudes who speak American-or British accented English while feigning an air of boyish innocence; cunning traders and bargainers, the people ere friendly yet dignified. You’re invited to take tea and photos of women weaving wide temple belts on rhythmical back strap looms. The walled village’s quiet somnolent air is accentuated by the lack of vehicular traffic except for the occasional motorcycle. There are no accommodations for tourists; the nearest hotels are in Candidasa. Morning is proclaimed at Tenganan by 21 low drumbeats at around 06.00 and curfew is loudly announced at 20.00 when all visitors must leave.



Most rituals take place early in the morning. A famous celebration in May or June each year is the three-day Usaba Sambah. At this time one of the area’s five primitive Ferris wheels is erected. The unmarried girls of the village sit on chairs and the giant wooden contraption is revolved by foot power for hours on end. For the past several years, however, the ceremony has o teen held because of a shortage of young marriageable girls. The high point of Usaba Sambah is the killing of a black water buffalo, proceed by a ritual trance fight (makare-kare) between young men who attack each other with prickly pandanus leaf whips. These the atrical contests can last for three days and incorporate more than 100 participants. The duels, similar to the peresean whip fights of Lombok, are staged to the intense martial sounds of kare music. Blood is usually drawn because the fighters are only protected by plaited bamboo shields. During the festival the streets of Tenganan throng with people from all over Bali.

Kawin pandan is also practiced here once yearly: a young man throws flower over a wall and must marry whoever catches it. Rejang is a formal and sedate ritual offering dance, originally performed by virgin boys and girls. In this quiet, hypnotic dance, girls in three rows wear magnificent costumes and colorful sashes, their hair adorned with blossoms of hammered gold. It’s accompanied by the slow, haunting gamelan music found only in Bali Aga villages.

The xylophonic rindik is made of bamboo tubes suspended in a wooden frame. Played for dancing and entertainment rather than ceremonies, the ridik is part of the small village folk band and often serves as background music in tourist hotels and restaurants. The instrument can play a rich repertoire of music. There are two types, each tuned differently: lanang (higher, or “left”) and wadon (lower, or “right”). They’re cheap, light, easy to make, and House of Music carry rindik in both carved and plain frames. Don’t buy a packaged instrument without first checking that it’s not broken or rotten; don’t take one off Bali or it will definitely become the latter.

The unique gong selonding is an archaic orchestra consisting of instruments with up to 40 tuned iron sound bars suspended on leather straps over resonators. This unusual orchestra is peculiar to the ancient, cloistered, conservative villages of eastern Bali. Quite different from Bali’s Javanized Gong Kebyar, which uses bronze keys, the selonding’s resonant iron bars are more meditative and deeper. Tenganan’s own gong selonding is so sacred that until recently it was locked away in the southernmost boys’ assembly house. Taping and photos were prohibited, and no outsider could touch it, else the whole gamelan require reconsecration in an elaborate purification rite. Now you can buy a cassette of The Best of Gamelan/Selonding Tenganan in music shops through out Bali. A full-size replica of this orchestra is displayed in the Basel Museum of Anthropology in Switzerland.

Tenganan’s musicians also fashion and play genggong instrument. Inquire about lessons; around Rp 10.000 per hour.

Kamben Gringsing

Tenganan is the only place in all of Indonesia that produces double-ikat textiles. In this difficult traditional technique, both the warp and weft threads are dyed before the fabric is woven. Reddish, dark brown, blue-black, and tan backgrounds, once dyed in human blood, are used to highlight intricate whitish and yellow design of wayang puppet figures, rosettes, lines, and checks. Great care is taken to ensure that patterns will match exactly.

Rather loosely woven, these kamben gringsing (or “flaming cloths”) are used only in rites of passage or for ceremonial purposes: weddings, toothfilings, covering the dead, or during a child’s first haircut. It’s thought the sarung-length cloths can immunize the wearer against illness; small pieces for wrapping around the wrist are sold for this purpose.

No longer is it the custom to teach all village daughters this craft. Only about six families still know all the double-ikat processes (coloring, tying, dyeing), and only about 15 people still weave gringsing on small makeshift breast looms. A good place to learn about double- ikat is Indigo Art Shop.

Because they are not worked on full time and because the coloring process is so involved, it can take up to seven years to complete a fine piece of gringsing and they’re generally only sold upon the death of the owner. The really precious gringsing, prized by serious textile collectors, cost Rp7 million-10 million. Wayan Pura of the Dewi Sri Shop can show can show you some specimens; others are displayed in Jakarta’s Textile Museum. Less alus, newer gringsing cost “only” Rp400.000 to Rp750.000-preposterous, as they’re often tatty, dull-colored, and less than a meter long! You simply can’t buy the perfect ones anymore. Like the people who make them, the magic cloths are disappearing.

Lontar books

Lontar are palm leafs which intricate drawings have been etched, usually depicting scenes from the Hindu epics. I Wayang Muditadnana makes about one five-page lontar book per month, which he sells mostly to tourists for Rp100.000 and up. On holy days or upon request the can be heard reading passages from his books. I Made Pasek is another lontar carver in the village. He, too, spends about a month inscribing one palm-leaf book with miniature Ramayana scenes and stories. A third artist, I Nyoman Widiana, asks Rp100.000 for his seven-page wordbooks. He also sells lesser quality lontar made by his students. Most cheap (Rp10.000) versions sold on the street are of low quality. The finer, antique, superbly etched works can fetch Rp500.000.

Ata Baskets

Ata baskets are a good buy, so sturdy they’re said to last100 years. They’re made from a vine collected from the hills behind Tenganan. Basketry has been developed into a fine art on Lombok too, but baskets there are made from rattan. Ata is much stronger than rattan, as it’s water, heat, and insect resistant. They come in all shapes and sizes, and cost from Rp5000 to Rp250.000; those with black woven designs are more difficult to make and cost more. An average-size basket takes two to three weeks to make, worked on by both men and women when it’s too hot or rainy to work the fields.

A friendly place to purchase these traditional baskets, woven right on the premises by the whole family, is I Nengah Kedep’s on the main street. These are the finest ata baskets, “bowls,” boxes, plaques, and even backpacks on the island; take time to linger and you’ll learn a lot I Nengah may even, eventually, bargain a bit. If you’re really serious about buying, ask to see the baskets in the back room. Another reasonably priced shop for woven goods is Mertha Shop run by I Nyoman Setiawan.

Tenganan is a fantastic place to shop-both for local and gianyar crafts, as well as fine textiles from the eastern islands. Many vendor have a good eye, ask reasonable prices, and don’t hassle you buy. The craft shops on the outside of Tenganan’s southern entrance carry handsome tasseled shawls, ata baskets, offering trays, wickerwork, woven reeds, betel nut containers, and a good variety of woven eastern isle textiles. Watch for imitation Sumba blankets, carving from Gianyar, and other crafts which may be bought cheaper in Denpasar’s Pasar Badung or in the villages of origin. You’ll get a better price in the off-season (February to May), and in the morning before the tour buses start arriving and price skyrocket.

Gagaron, located through the entrance gate from the parking lot in the lower part of the village, is a good place to start. The owner sells smallish gringsing for Rp 350.000 to Rp 400.000, as well as an extensive collection of kain ikat, antiques, palm-leaf books, woodcarvings, and bronze. Rindik cost Rp35.000 and can be disassembled and packaged to go. Ask the owner’s nephew, I Komang Sika, to demonstrate how they’re played. To make sure the notes ring true, have them break down and wrap a rindik you’ve personally played.

Art Shop Dewi Sri is on right on the top parking lot. Large selection of new bronze pieces, single and double ikat, and ata goods. At House of Music and Gamelan Cebtre, toward the top of the village (fifth terrace), I Nyoman Gunawan makes distinctive nine-piece Tenganan-style gong selonding. He also sells gongs (Rp300.000), rebab (Rp150.000), carved rindik (Rp150.000), and tapes (RP6000). The best place to buy the more elaborate xylophone-type musical instrument.

Getting There and Away

Tenganan is there km off main road between Klungkung and Amlapura, just before Candidasa, and 17 km southwest of Amlapura. Catch a bemo from Klungkung or Padangbai to the Tenganan turnoff, then mount the back of one of the 15 or so waiting ojek motorcycles (Rp1000, after negotiations) and travel up through a tunnel of banana trees and bamboo. You can also stay in Candidasa-o accommodations in Tenganan-then early in the morning walk from the main road up to Tenganan. The turnoff is on the west side of the village, then it’s about another five kilometers up the hill through thick forest-a great walk. Or hitch a minibus, oplet, truck, or anything else headed your way. Another option is to rent a bicycle in Candidasa; it’s a nice, though uphill, ride. The road ends at the southern entrance gate to Tenganan where you’ll be asked for a donation. Foodstalls, inside and out, sell cold drinks and snacks. It’s best not to arrive and parking lot are deluged with tourist.

Another way to reach this traditional village is to follow the road on top of the hill behind Candidasa in a northerly direction; a two-and-a-half-hour walk. Stop for boiled water and fruit at Nyi Komang Rerot’s house along the way. If you walk into the hills beyond Tenganan, the road turns to the northeast. Check out the panorama from the pura in gumang, the highest point over looking a deep valley. In Tenganan, ask about the footpath to Tirtagangga.

Source: Bali Handbook Bill Dalton

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