Located in Bali’s central east around 65km from Denpasar, the Bali Aga village of Tenganan is one of the oldest and most traditional in Bali. The Bali Aga (meaning original Balinese) are the oldest ethnic group inhabiting of island, having been established there for thousands of years before the wave of Hindu immigrants from the Javanese Majapahit kingdom in the 14th century. Even after the Majapahit invasion, the Aga isolated themselves in walled communities ruled by a council of elders who were also priests. Known for blackening and filing their teeth, the Aga were regarded as somewhat of an enigma by the newcomers despite the relatively strong correlation between their cultural beliefs.
The Aga culture is quite fascinating and revolves around the central covenant of territorial, bodily and spiritual purity and integrity, the worship of the forces of nature and their ancestors. Sacred Geringsing cloths are a feature of the Tenganan Aga beliefs and play and important role in everyday life and life-cycle ceremonies marking events such as an individual’s first haircut, tooth filing, admission to the village youth association, marriage and death. The Geringsing are created using a complex double ikat weaving method that endows the textile with supernatural powers capable of keeping impurities and danger out of the village, shielding humans from malign influences during rites of passage as they transition from one phase of life to the next.
The village is also known for their intricate lontar palm leaf paper inscriptions using the same natural colouring materials they use geringsing such as candle nut oil and wood ash. The lontar a basically manuscripts incorporating words and drawings that cover various aspects of cover a variety of aspects of human life such as religion, adat, astrology, mythology, healing, history and genealogy.
Even today, geringsing and lontar creation remain at the heart of the Tenganan village culture as does ancestor worship . Sacred kul-kul drums, through which the Aga communicate with their ancestors, are beaten 21 times at the start of day.
Tenganan village is noticeably different to Hindu Balinese kampongs. All dwellings are identical, kept clear of vegetation and neatly arranged in rows alongside north-south aligned paved avenues. A 70 foot long council house, called a balé agung, occupies a central courtyard. Beside it the kul-kul drum tower and a series of communal pavilions (balé banjar) where formal and informal meetings and ceremonies are conducted. The Pura Puseh temple of origin occupies the north end of the compound and an empty shrine where spirits can rest when they visit their descendants.
Although the village has become quite commercialised and is definitely not off the beaten track, the villagers are welcoming, the buildings are well preserved and it is the best example of a traditional village that can found in Bali today. You’re also unlikely to see genuine geringsing or lontar anywhere else in Bali so a visit to Tenganan is well worth including in your itinerary.