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Tenganan Pegeringsingan

This is an original pre-Hindu Balinese settlement, long a stronghold of native traditions, 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, and craftspeople.

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 arrived. 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 Polynesian.

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 lives 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, and the occasional tinny sound of a cassette recorder or radio.

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 republic." Most of these rich rice lands (over 1.000 hectares) are leased to and worked by sharecroppers from other villages, who receive half the harvest. This leaves Tenganians villagers among the wealthiest on Bali.

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 (village headman Mangku Widia will provide details on Tenganian adapt). The village customary law prohibits divorce or polygamy, and until recently only those who married within 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 Tenganian.

Architecture: Tenganan is an architecture 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 longhouses, all built in a powerful, very masculine, crude "aristocratic" style. These extraordinary structures come straight from the island's casteless prehistory. 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 longhouses suggest the village was once located farther up the valley. Village legends of landslides and sudden evacuations lend credence to this theory.

Longhouses are actually the equivalent of southern Bali's Bale banjar where meetings, weddings, and banquets take place and where the village gamelan is stored. Longhouses are still widespread in a number of isolated, animist, and agricultural on Kalimantan and Sumatra.

Layout: 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 or souvenir stalls. Villagers live in brick and mortal longhouses. 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 a huge waringin tree, is Pura Puseh (temple of origins).

Village Life: Much of live revolves around souvenir selling. The people have completely adapted to the tourist economy; nowadays tables selling palm leaf books are 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 ere friendly yet dignified. You're invited to take tea and photos of women weaving wide temple belts on rhythmical back strap looms. The walled village's quiet somnolent air is accentuated by the lack of vehicular traffic except for the occasional motorcycle Morning is proclaimed at Tenganan by 21 low drumbeats at around 06.00 and curfew is loudly announced at 20.00 when all visitors must leave.

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, are used to highlight intricate whitish and yellow design of wayang puppet figures, rosettes, lines, and checks. Great care is taken to ensure that patterns will match exactly.

Rather loosely woven, these kamben gringsing (or "flaming cloths") are used only in rites of passage or for ceremonial purposes: weddings, toothfilings, covering the dead, or during a child's first haircut. It's thought the sarung-length cloths can immunize the wearer against illness; small pieces for wrapping around the wrist are sold for this purpose.

No longer is it the custom to teach all village daughters this craft. Only about six families still know all the double-ikat processes (coloring, tying, dyeing), and only about 15 people still weave gringsing on small makeshift breast looms. A good place to learn about double- ikat is Indigo Art Shop.

Because they are not worked on full time and because the coloring process is so involved, it can take up to seven years to complete a fine piece of gringsing and they're generally only sold upon the death of the owner. The really precious gringsing, prized by serious textile collectors, cost Rp7 million-10 million. Wayan Pura of the Dewi Sri Shop can show can show you some specimens; others are displayed in Jakarta's Textile Museum. Less alus, newer gringsing cost "only" Rp400.000 to Rp750.000-preposterous, as they're often tatty, dull-colored, and less than a meter long! You simply can't buy the perfect ones anymore. Like the people who make them, the magic cloths are disappearing.

Lontar books: Lontar are palm leafs 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, which he sells mostly to tourists for Rp100.000 and up. 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, asks Rp100.000 for his seven-page wordbooks. He also sells lesser quality lontar made by his students. Most cheap (Rp10.000) versions sold on the street are of low quality. The finer, antique, superbly etched works can fetch Rp500.000.

Ata Baskets: 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, and cost from Rp5000 to Rp250.000; 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.