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,
The lowland people of Tenganan have preserved their culture
and way of 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
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
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 live 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, the motorcycles parked outside the compounds,
and the occasional tinny sound of a cassette recorder or
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
Most of these rich ricelands (over 1,000 hectares) are
leased to and worked by sharecroppers from other villages,
who receive half the harvest. This leaves Tenganans free
for such artistic pursuits as weaving, dancing, music, and
ritual fighting. Tenganan villagers are among the wealthiest
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.
The village customary law prohibits divorce or polygamy,
and until recently only those who married within the village
were allowed to remain within its walls, others were banished
to a section east of 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 Tenganan.
Tenganan is an architectural 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 long houses, all built
in a powerful, very masculine, crude 'aristocratic' style.
These extraordinary structures come straight from the island's
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 long houses suggest the village was once
located farther up the valley. Village legends of landslides
and sudden evacuations lend credence to this theory.
Long houses are actually the equivalent of southern Bali's
'bale banjar' where meetings, weddings, and banquets take
place and where the village 'gamelan' is stored. Long-houses
are still widespread in a number of isolated, animist, agricultural
societies 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 of souvenir stalls.
Villagers live in brick and mortar long houses. 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 banyan trees. Well to the north of the village, also
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.
Much of it revolves around souvenir selling. The people
have completely adapted to the tourist economy. Nowadays
tables selling palm leaf books a re 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 are friendly yet dignified. You're invited to
take tea and photos of women weaving wide temple belts on
rhythmical backstrap 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. Morning
is proclaimed at Tenganan by 21 low drumbeats at around
0600 and curfew is loudly announced at 2000 when all visitors
Most rituals take place early in the morning. A famous
celebration in May or June each year is the three-day Udaba
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 not been held because of a shortage
of young marriageable girls.
The high point of Udaba Sambah is the killing of a black
water buffalo, preceded by a ritual trance fight (makara-kare)
between young men who attack each other with prickly pandanus
leaf whips. These theatrical 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 a 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.
'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, is used to
highlight intricate whitish and yellow designs of 'wayang'
puppet figures, rosettes, lines, and checks. Great care
is taken to ensure that even tension is applied throughout
so the patterns will match exactly.
Lontar are palm leafs on 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. On holy days or upon request he 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 sells seven-page wordbooks and
also sells lesser quality lontar made by his students. Most
cheap versions sold on the street are of low quality. The
finer, antique, superbly etched works can fetch higher price.
Ata baskets are a good buy, so sturdy they're said to last
100 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;
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.
Getting There and Away
Tenganan is three km off the 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 and travel up through
a tunnel of banana trees and bamboo.
You can also stay in Candidasa-no 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
forests-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
between 1100 and 1400 when the small village 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 Ni 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 overlooking a deep valley. In Tenganan,
ask about the footpath to Tirtagangga.