The Bali Aga Village at Tenganan, Karangasem
Tenganan Village has maintained its ancient pre-Hindu customs through a strong code of non-fraternization with outsider. Here unique rituals, dances, and gladiator-like battles between youths take place. Tenganan is famous for its “double ikat” woven material called gringseng, which is supposed to protect the wearer with magic powers.
In the hills just four km inland from Candidasa at Tenganan, is the most famous Bali Aga (original Balinese) village. There is another (distinct) Bali Aga community in the village of Trunyan on the shores of Lake Batur near Kintaamani but visitors are advised that Tenganan is much easier to reach and far more welcoming of outsiders.
The Bali Aga people have retained an ancient pre-Majapahit Balinese culture, and this is apparent in the many obvious differences from the rest of Bali which you will find in Tenganan, Karangasem. The villagers maintain a strict adherence to ancestor worship, cosmology and other animist beliefs, as well as a rigid social organisation. Villagers must live inside the village and marry from within. Tenganan is closed to outsiders after dark. The dialect of Balinese spoken here is heard nowhere else, and differs substantially from even the other Bali Aga community in Trunyan.
This is an isolated community in almost every way. The village is separated from the rest of the world by a solid stone wall that entirely encompasses the village. There are four gates in the wall, one for each point of the compass. All houses are exactly alike and aligned either side of natural stone pathways. Each house is accessed by a flight of steps and then a simple gate which opens into a courtyard, around which are arranged the bedrooms, the kitchen and a longhouse which serves as a store. Each house has its own empty shrine where it is believed ancestor spirits reside when they visit their descendants.
The focal point of the village is the 70 foot long Bali Agung pavilion, where the village elders meet to discuss matters of concern. This structure is clearly very old but nobody seems to know just how old. The major communal village temple is the Pura Puseh (the temple of origin), and this actually lies outside the village walls just to the north.
Tenganan produces some of the finest woven basket-ware, and a fabled double weave ikat fabric, called Geringsing. This fabric is extraordinarily complex and fine pieces fetch enormous prices in the international markets. Collectors of Geringsing have very deep pockets.
A local custom that has been become a popular tourist spectacle involves ritual blood sacrifice whereby combatants fight using wickedly thorned pandanus leaves. The aim of each participant is to draw blood from their opponent. This ritual combat is known as mekare kare and is scheduled whenever there is an important temple ceremony in Tenganan. An elaborate feast follows.