Tenganan is a unique 700-year-old walled village hidden within the hills three kilometres north of Candi Beach Cottage. Here, the residents practise a time-honoured lifestyle based around ritual and ceremony, bound by strict ‘adat’ (customary law) practices to maintain purity. Tenganan is one of Bali’s original pre-Hindu settlements and a stronghold of native traditions. The residents are the Bali Aga people, descendants of the original Balinese who resisted the rule of the post-Majapahit kings, fiercely safeguarding and maintaining their own culture through the conviction that they are descended from the gods. Ceremonial longhouses, rice barns, shrines, communal pavilions and the imposing ‘bale agung’, where the ‘krama desa’ (council of elders) make their decisions, have been meticulously positioned in accordance with long-established beliefs. Three broad parallel avenues run north to south, ascending towards the mountains, narrow lanes run east to west forming a grid. Single storey dwellings line both sides of the main street; doorways and windows have been enhanced with whimsical flair.
The Bali Aga society is communal, with a distinct social organisation. All of the village property and surrounding fertile farmland belongs to the township as a whole. The villagers do not actually work the land; instead they lease it to sharecroppers from other villages and receive half the harvest. This leaves the Tenganians free to engage in artistic activities such as crafting musical instruments including the ‘Genggong’, a bamboo harp; creating the sacred iron keyed gamelan ‘Selonding’ music; and hand-weaving the famous, highly-valued double ikat textiles, known as ‘Geringsing’, Tenganan’s magic cloth, which has the power to protect the wearer from sickness and evil vibrations. They also faithfully adhere to a calendar of complex ceremonies and ritual trance fighting between the men, known as ‘perang padan’ or ‘mekare-kare’, using prickly pandanus leaf whips to draw blood.
The Bali Aga people may be exceptionally conservative and resistant to change, but they have embraced the tourist economy and visitors are welcomed during daylight hours. Thus the fortress-like village has become a living museum, and many of the houses also function as shops and workshops where expert craftsmen and women perform their centuries’ old skills.