The original Bali
Published/Last edited or updated: 4th March, 2016
Tenganan Pegringsingan and the less well known Tenganan Dauh Tukad villages near Candi Dasa are the homes of Bali Aga, the indigenous Balinese. Largely separated socially and economically from the rest of Bali, they have fascinating ancient beliefs, interesting architecture and produce unique crafts. If you have a passing interest in any of these, either Tenganan is worth visiting.
Of the two villages, Tenganan Pegringsingan has the edge architecturally (and perhaps culturally, though we are not experts). During our visits to each, however, we found the people of Tenganan Dauh Tukad a little more open and they seemed genuinely interested in explaining their culture. Tourism is promoted in both villages, and they may seem too commercial to some travellers, but these are living villages with unique cultures, not something put on show solely for tourists.
The Bali Aga trace their origins to the first settlers in Bali, predating the influx of migrants from Java during the Majapahit kingdom of the 14th century, whom the majority of modern Balinese are said to be descended from. The customs of the Bali Aga dictate on which street they can live and whom they can marry. There is no individual ownership of property, but community inheritance, in which women have equal share — unless they marry outside, when they will lose all. Among the ceremonies they practise, the month-long Usaba Sumbah is most open to tourists. The ceremony includes ritual bloody fighting with sharp pandan leaves between men (makare-kare), and a kind of wooden hand-cranked ferris wheel ridden by young women (ayunan). The idea is to impress each other, and rebalance life.
Tenganan Pegringsingan is striking. The walled village is surrounded by mountains, which create a mystical atmosphere, particularly during the cloudy wet season. Buildings are made of stone, clay, wood and thatch, set within a grid system of two main streets, with a third apparently outside the village. Your place in the world is dictated by which street you live on — the lesser “third street” is the lowest rung. Important central communal buildings where meetings and ceremonies take place run down the main street. Large stone gates at compass points enclose the village. It’s all very picturesque and feels like you are stepping into the past — until you see a TV arial or parked motorbike. Many of the houses open their doors, becoming shops to sell their traditional handicrafts.
The crafts produced in Tenganan famously include geringsing — a complicated double ikat textile. This technique is unique to only Tenganan in Indonesia and two other places in the world — one each in India and Japan. It involves the pre-dying, using natural colours, of both the warp and weft before weaving — a process that can take months. Within the Bali Aga belief system, this cloth is said to have magical healing and protective powers. The limited palette of black, red and white (more blue, brown and tan in some instances) represent the Hindu trinity. They are very beautiful, very collectable, and rather expensive.
Beautiful finely woven ata grass basketwork in brown with black details and traditional calligraphy painstakingly scraped into lontar palm books are other crafts produced and on sale.
As touristy as some of the shops may seem, the outside influence of tourism has encouraged this community to keep and promote their ancient traditions and beautiful and skilled crafts, providing job opportunities for its inhabitants.
When you enter both villages there is a donation booth, with a suggested donation of 10,000 rupiah per person. Tenganan Dauh Tukad provide you with a free guide (tips encouraged), who will explain in as great or as little detail as your interest what you are looking at, and lead you to their home/shop to show you their wares. Tenganan Dauh Tukad is less visited (although a tour bus pulled up when we visited) and “less commercial” — our guide still led us to his house, but didn’t lose interest when we explained that we weren’t planning on buying. The buildings are newer and not as picturesque — according to our guide the village had been destroyed by earthquake and rebuilt. Guides are available at Tenganan Pegringsingan too — we were quoted 150,000 rupiah for a tour.
If you have time and interest, visit both, but if you can only see one, Tenganan Pegringsingan is more aesthetically interesting. We recommend coughing up the big bucks for a guide to explain the ins and outs, otherwise it just looks like a bunch of old buildings turned into commercial handicraft shops, when in fact there’s a rich and interesting culture and history.
Sally spent twelve years leading tourists around Indonesia and Malaysia where she collected a lot of stuff. She once carried a 40kg rug overland across Java. Her house has been described as a cross between a museum and a library. Fuelled by coffee, she can often be found riding her bike or petting stray cats. Sally believes travel is the key to world peace.