Tenganan Dauh Tukad
Information about place
Bali Aga villages are villages that have existed in Bali before the Majapahit kingdom invaded the island.Tenganan Dauh Tukad adheres to a different calendar from the usual Balinese Calendar. The village has a few characteristic ceremonies, nowhere to be found in other villages.
I arrived around 7 PM in Tenganan Dauh Tukad village the night before the Pandan War. Walking up the nearly deserted main street, I discovered that most of the community members were attending a prayer ritual in the main temple. Soon, however, people started streaming out of the temple and I struck up a conversation with Komang, who very kindly invited me back to his house for coffee and cake.
After coffee, Komang and I made our way to a smaller village temple where young people were already filing through the gates. The boys moved to one side while the girls, beautifully adorned in traditional attire, took their place on a small raised platform on the opposite side. Soon enough, the boisterous boys started throwing romantic words in the direction of the ever so bashful girls. A couple of the male suitors were very poetic. Others were less so, trying phrases like, “How about going on my scoopy (motorbike) together, just you and me – yes?”
It was highly entertaining, and even the priests were laughing at the young people’s antics. The evening got more and more lively as the suggestions became increasingly inventive. Komang explained that the event was a kind of pre-courtship, where many boys were hoping to impress a future bride.
Tenganan Dauh Tukad village.
Preparation of Pandan War. Some of the girls threw their own words back or laughed, but the overall intention was clear - for connections to be made. In the end, I was not sure if any of those boys were successful, but it was not for want of trying.
After the exchanges, everyone filed out and began to prepare for the next ritual – the race around the village. This involved eight of the younger boys climbing onto the backs of older boys for a piggyback style relay race. The younger boys clung on for dear life as the runners used all their strength and speed to complete three circuits of the village. Somehow these boys managed to keep their traditional finery intact, their krises (sacred dagger with a wavy-edged blade) lodged firmly into their fine double ikat textile sarongs and I did not see one ornate golden crown fall.
There were also eight pigs who at times dodged and weaved between the boys and, at times, seemed to be chasing them. The pigs were on poles and hoisted on the shoulders of the male or (strong) female bearers. These pigs had been slow cooked over a coconut shell fire. There were a lot of yells of encouragement from the crowd as these eight boys and eight cooked pigs ran for their lives. The whole affair was incredibly noisy and a lot of fun.
After the excitement, I was invited back for a suckling pig feast with Komang’s family. There was a variety of pork dishes, including sate, spare ribs, sausage and a delicious pork stew with banana stems. Over dinner, Komang briefed me on the origin of the Pandan War ritual, known locally as Makare-Kare.
The young Balinese boys. He explained that this annual ceremony was to honour the God of War, Indra. Dating from Vedic times, Indra has been seen as the supreme ruler of the gods and hailed as the god of war and of thunder and storms. He is revered as the greatest of all warriors who can defend the gods and mankind alike against the forces of evil.
The day of the Pandan War was hot and so I found myself a shady spot well before it was due to start. While waiting, I struck up a conversation with Ayu, from Tabanan, “I have travelled three hours from my village to be here,” Ayu said. “I would not miss this Pandan War for anything. I came last year too. This original Balinese culture is so different from the Balinese culture in my village. The Pandan War ritual is over 1,000 years old, and not found anywhere else in Bali. It is a marvel and I think it’s important for my children to see it.”
The War started in the early afternoon under an intense hot blue sky. The gamelan orchestra struck up their gongs, drums and percussion instruments as the first two warriors appeared on the stage holding pandanus leaves with razor sharp spikes. As they engaged in battle, the orchestra’s tempo kept getting faster and faster, eventually reaching fever pitch. Ayu explained the gamelan players were skilfully matching their rhythm with that of the fighting.
I was mesmerised by the deep lunges and agile foot movements of the successive pairs of warriors appearing before the crowd. Their fast and furious strikes made the large crowd go into frenzy. The fighting got pretty gruesome at times, with most battles resulting in a bit of bloodletting. The referee had to move as swiftly as the warriors to control the fights, and many had to be broken up. The warriors indeed have to be very brave but, as the afternoon wore on, many more stepped up to take on the challenge. This included rounds with boys as young as eight years old.
Despite the drama of the fighting, throughout the ritual there was a wonderful spirit of comradery among the warriors, and smiles were often exchanged between opponents. Ayu’s sister, Putu, nudged me, “I think they are actually dancing. That is the way I explain it to my children, so they don’t get too upset.”
Eight of the younger boys climbing onto the backs of older boys for a piggyback style relay race.
The event was a kind of pre-courtship, where many boys were hoping to impress a future bride. After each fight, the two opponents left the stage immediately, streaked with blood but giving one another one last smile and then they smeared a yellow paste on each other’s wounds.
“I was only eight years old when I started to fight,” Komang said after his round. “I fight every year.” After turning his back to show me his wounds he said, “It’s not so painful. The first time it really hurt. Now I am used to it and can master mind over matter, and I barely feel it. The paste we rub on each other’s backs is turmeric and other herbs. It will be all healed in three days.”
As the War raged, demure young village maidens watched from the adjacent bale. They were dressed in sparkling golden crowns and intricately woven double ikat bodices, with pink silk sashes accentuating their tiny waists. They watched the fight with an aloof air which occasionally transformed into a smile. The young women also had the most exquisite makeup and hairstyles.
I struck up a conversation with Kadek, who told me it had taken two hours to get ready but assured me that it was worth it. “We have love on our mind all the time. Whether we are swinging on the old Vedic wooden swing ritual or watching the men fight with the pandanus leaves, or at the evening romantic poetry ritual, we are contemplating a suitor.”
The Tenganan Duah Tukad villagers preserve their authentic, age-old aga culture with many time-honoured rituals. These villagers are in fact the oldest tribal group in Bali. The village is self-sustaining, with two major productive honey bee enterprises, a thriving Ikat fabric cottage industry and artisan miniature book production from lontar palm leaf. It also produces ata craftwork, weaving ata grass to make placemats, bags and baskets. The village is very welcoming of guests at any time.
In Bali, as in all the islands I have travelled to in Indonesia, people always show great respect for visitors, and it is not uncommon to be invited into the homes of villagers for a coffee or a meal. In this deeply traditional village, however, I experienced a special sense of genuine inclusion and openness to me as an outsider.I walked away having made many new friends and felt very privileged to have learnt a little more about the Bali Aga customs and culture.
Hidden in these hills and valleys is a string of ancient Bali Aga (old Bali) villages. Bali Aga people are the original aboriginal people of Bali. They were living in Bali long before the ancestors of most of today’s Balinese arrived as part of Hindu Javanese waves of migration. The Bali Aga culture can be traced back to the 11th century. However, it is very much alive today. The Bali Aga people celebrate their culture with unique temple ceremonies and festivals that have remained virtually unchanged over the centuries.
Once entering the walled village of Tenganan Pegringsingan, 70 kilometres from Denpasar, I found myself on a wide dirt path connecting the village’s housing compounds and temples. Pointing out the path, my guide explained that the village council has voted against getting a more modern road. “The Government made the offer in 1990,” Wayan explained. “After much discussion, the two village banjars (councils) refused the offer. We like it this way, and anyway, asphalt is too hot”.
The Bali Aga people place importance on balance, and ensuring harmony with nature. The village is organised into four associations, which help to ensure this balance and the smooth running of the community. There is an association for married men and one for married women, as well as an association for boys and one for girls. One role of these organisations is to oversee the many community rites of passage. Children begin to learn about their roles and duties as early as seven years of age.
The calendar of temple ceremonies and festivals is full, with events involving unique arts and rituals every month. Many of these rituals involve dance, which require elaborate ceremonial dress and headgear, which is unique to the Bali Aga villages.
I planned my visit in June, the fifth month of the Balinese calendar, to witness the largest religious festival, Usaba Sambah (also known as Sasih Sembah).
Wayan told me that anyone can come and see Usaba Sambah and other unique events and that his village welcomes an increasing number of guests every year.
“You just missed the coconut event at Tenganan Dauh Tukad Village, a nearby Bali Aga village,” Wayan said. “This involves young boys trying to balance heavily laden coconuts on a shoulder pole, some with up to 40 coconuts.”
“The boys must dodge a hail of flying bananas. If they drop a coconut, they get fined,” he continued. “Of course, the bananas hit them, left, right and centre and chaos reigns. This ritual is all about encouraging strength and focus, and clearly, it tests participants in this way. The ceremony is called Sabatan Biu, or Banana War.”
As I walked through the village, I came upon a tall wooden swing set structure. Only unmarried young boys and girls are allowed to ride on these swings in a special ceremony that forms part of Usaba Samba, which resembles the old Vedic rites of boys and girls.
I watched as the girls dressed in elaborate traditional hand spun fabric climbed onto the swing chairs. Some boys also mounted the swings while others manually propelled the swings high into the air. The girls were very flirtatious, but with a pure kind of innocence, while the boys remained stoic. As the old rotation wheel device got faster and faster, the pitch of the girl’s squeals got higher and higher. It was fascinating to watch. Wayan explained the ceremony symbolises the unity of the sun and the earth, but that it also symbolises a courtship ritual.
In the afternoon I ducked into one of the ikat (weaving) shops in the village and talked with the owner who confided, “Oh, I remember that swing ritual. I got to swing on it five times, and then I was married.” She also invited me to come back the next day, at 5.30 AM to witness another very special ritual.
This ceremony involved young girls walking in single file, in delicate white lace and silk, towards the mountains. When they reached the particular place in the forest, they took part in a special ceremony which involved winding long strands of fresh coconut, cut in the forest, into each other’s hair. The girls then read from sacred texts, and Wayan explained that this was to reinforce and cultivate self-control and honesty.
Tenganan Village adheres to many sacred rituals, combining a nurturing element with strict adherence to customary laws. Implanted from early childhood, rituals like this are deeply respected, so much so, that if you move out of the village you are not welcomed back, nor are villagers allowed to marry an outsider. Only Bali Aga people are allowed to live in the village. I was told by one of the elders that one of the village leaders recently fell in love with a German girl, and he had to move away. He can never come back to live in the village.
Around 2 PM a large crowd started to gather for the Perang Pandan (Pandan Wars). Young men and brave boys clad in sarongs prepared to engage in a coming-of-age ritual combat. They locked against each other, shoulder to shoulder in a ritualistic fight known also as makare-kare. The combatants attacked each other with thorny pandanus leaves and attempted to whip their opponents’ bodies. During the ritual blood must flow in order to honour the god Indra, the god of war.
Each fighter had a woven rattan shield, although they often discarded it in the fury of the fight and I could see blood being drawn from the sharp thorns. A referee controls the battle, ensuring there was no violence at any time.It was an honour to be so openly welcomed to Tenganan Village. Their local law decrees that no village land can be sold, and so we can be rest assured that the mysterious and colourful Bali Aga customs and traditions will remain alive well into the future.