On my return to the wonderful island of Bali, I decided to explore the ancient village of Tenganan. About a two-hour drive from our hotel in Seminyak, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, is a 250-hectare community village. Home to 750 families, it is somewhat secluded in the sense that villagers here live traditionally, mostly working as farmers and craftsmen.
Since it was located in the outskirts we decided to have late lunch before entering the village. While waiting for my Nasi, I took a walk to the farmlands where I saw some farmers harvesting. I smiled as I approached with my trusty camera in hand.
The farmers were happy to see me (I take it they may not get a lot of visitors this time of the year) and although I had been warned previously that locals may be unable to speak in English, they actually surprised me with their attempts at communicating. They could understand me perfectly, albeit in broken English. I took this as a sign of good things to come, I was very excited to be here and learn more.
The farm was along the roadside, part of Tenganan Village already. For a more in-depth experience, you have to drive a little bit more along a narrow path and enter the community itself. Kedak, our guide, waited for us by the entrance.
There is no fee to enter but a donation is appreciated. Kedak spoke impeccable English and gave us a walk-through of the village citing traditional structures, beliefs, and practices. I would recommend allotting at least 3 hours here, there is a lot to take in.
Farming, basket weaving, painting, double ikat weaving, and lontar (palm leaf manuscripts) are the main livelihoods here. The community is so intact that if you decide to marry an outsider, you must leave the village forever.
While I am pretty familiar with [single] ikat weaving in the Philippines, this double ikat style (locally called Geringsing) is only practised in parts of India, Japan, and Indonesia, specifically Bali Aga in Tenganan. It is extremely demanding compared to single ikat weaving and thus take longer to finish. Women weave day in day out, profits of sold fabrics are given to the artisan/s who created it.
The villagers still employ a barter system with their neighbors but readily have weaves on sale for visiting tourists.
These are the 100% cotton strands all neatly bundled up per design. Colored using natural dyes, these will be used on future weaves. As per Kedak, over time the colors become more vibrant even with frequent use and washing.
He has a room full of fabrics just waiting to be purchased! Take your pick from single ikat, double ikat, silk, or cotton weaves with sizes ranging from scarves to bed covers.
Kedak seems to be such a multi-faceted artist with painting being one of his main skills. This delicate and intricate piece is IDR 400,000 (inclusive of wooden frame). Considering the craftsmanship, the price is such a steal already.
Lontar (Palm Leaf Manuscript)
This is what I came here for, I wanted to see the art of Lontar and Kedak was happy to indulge us. Lontar is the art of carving or inscribing on palm leaves with topics that cover various aspects of human life like religion, astronomy, astrology, history, etc.
Creating everything from scratch: gathering of palm leaves, cleaning, drying, flattening the pieces, and then finally drawing and carving, each manuscript could take up to 6 months of continuous and focused work. The drawing/carving itself takes 4 weeks.
Kedak shows us the story of Ramayana on lontar, one of his prized creations.
The main tool used is a pen called pengerupak that comes in various sizes and lengths, it enables the lontar artist to create thin and thick inscriptions.
Carvings are then rubbed with ink made of charcoal grilled hazelnut, then wiped clean and left to dry. Kedak limits his carvings/drawings to a few hours per day as he knows this is bad for the eyes when done for prolonged periods. These inscriptions are tiny after all.
Once done, these palm leaves called lempir are bound together using string to create a book of sorts. Thye can also be folded for storage or travel. We decided to take home a lontar souvenir and we chose the Balinese calendar with corresponding gods per month. Kedak was kind enough to personalize it, carving the name of each family member in English and Balinese.
In order to keep the art of Lontar alive, Kedak regularly holds classes in Ubud and Kuta. Anyone can join, the fee is only IDR 300,000.
As a bonus when you come visit, you can check out the Honeybee Farm and taste fresh honey for free! Make sure to book a visit to Tenganan the next time you swing by Bali.
If you need a private tour guide and driver in Bali, contact Bagus at +62-812-3748-6942.