Virtual Vacation: Tenganan Village, Day 18

In preparation for our visit to Tenganan Village today, where we’d be seeing the coming of age ritual and visiting some of Bali’s greatest artisans, Judy gave us a dramatic lesson in the art of bargaining. She began by saying, “Some of you may already be very good at bargaining from yard sales and flea markets. Others are terrified of bargaining, and think, ‘I’ll just pay the first price,” but bargaining is expected in Bali.

The basis of bargaining is not who wins. It’s getting to know the person you’re buying from and letting them get to know you, so that they decide to give you a good price. In between talking about price, you talk about your families and where you came from. Bargaining isn’t about a sale; it’s a way to make a new friend.

Bargaining is a game; and it’s an above board game. People are very theatrical. They bargain smiling and they don’t get upset.

The first essential thing when you want to purchase something is to have an idea of how much it’s worth. You can ask other people what they paid for things. This is considered rude in the US, but it’s perfectly acceptable in Bali. If you know what the price should be, you walk in with ammunition—you know what the item is worth. You might even beat the price your friend got.

Parga means price. Sometimes items will be marked fixed price. That means no bargaining.

Parga Pagi is the morning price. It’s the lowest price of the day. A shopkeeper has blessed her shop and set out her goods and has just opened up for business. Her first sale blesses the rest of her day with abundance. So if you re her first customer of the day, she gives you the parga pagi. She will take the rupiah you pay her and dust the goods in the shop and tuck it in her shrine.

Parga Bali is the local price. That’s what you want to get. You don’t want to pay the Parga Tamu (the tourist or guest price).

Here’s how a typical bargaining session will go: As a savvy shopper, you look through a shop, casually wandering around. When you find the object of your dreams, you don’t reveal your interest or desire to the shopkeeper. In a very off-hand way, you say, “Berapa Harga ini?” (What’s the price?)

She gives you the price (and if you don’t understand the numbers in Indonesian, have her write it on a piece of paper) and you gasp or collapse into the nearest chair. And you say, “Mahal!” (Expensive)

She comes back with, “Tidak, murah!” (No, cheap!) Then she’ll ask you in words or in gestures, “What’s your price?”

Come back with half of the price. She’ll come back with something like, “Me, bankroot!) (me bankrupt).”

All the time, you’re both smiling and enjoying the theatrical interaction.

That’s when you get to the “walkaway.” Make a gesture like empty pockets, shrug and smile and walk away slowly. And then hope she comes after you. Most times she will. If not, there’s always another shop with a similar item and another chance to try your hand at bargaining.

Judy’s presentation had us all laughing, and made those of us reluctant to bargain, at least a little more willing to make it our risk for the day.

On the way up to Tenganan Village, Judy explained that many of the people in the village are sharecroppers working the rice field right across from our hotel. They share in the profits of the owners. In fact, everything in the village is shared; whatever the village earns and produces is shared among all the families that live there.

Three hundred people live in the village; they are an original aboriginal village, the descendents of the original residents of Bali before the large-scale migration to the island. Everyone who lives in Tenganan is intermarried to protect the purity of their blood; you can get cast out of the village for marrying someone from the outside. Also for having more than one wife. Although the laws of Indonesia allow for polygamy, this village is monogamous. Those who are born physically or mentally disabled are not considered full members of the village, though they are taken care of by their families.

When our vans arrived, we had a ten-minute walk up a narrow street in the heat to get to the walled village. On the ground were far more offerings than we typically see. And some were burned. Judy told us that offerings on the ground are put there to appease the low spirits, and they often include meat because the ground spirits like meat.

Once we passed through the gates of the village, it was obvious a lot of people had shown up to watch the ritual:

The village had beautiful cobbled streets:

Water buffalos wander around town freely. Eventually they are sacrificed for special ceremonies like this one. I guess one of these big fellows is the ultimate in grass-fed beef.

We saw a huge cooked suckling pig on a stick carried right in front of us.

photo by Julia Atwood

Compare that to this unexpected sight, for the little kids:

This woman with a cup balanced on her head tried to entice us into her shop:

photo by Julia Atwood

It was an extremely hot day, the hottest we’ve had so far. We found a tiny bit of shade and Surya gave us some more background on the history of the village. It is believed that the Tenganan villagers may have settled in this village as early as the 9th to 11th century AD. Surya believes they are the descendents of the ancient Balinese kings. The villagers of Tenganan conduct completely different rituals than the rest of Bali, and the one we were about to see was one of them. A rite of passage ritual for the boys, this mecaré caré ritual was their way to prove their masculinity and readiness to be part of the community.

Pairs of boys and young men enter an arena to fight each other with pandanus leaves. The pandanus plant looks a lot like aloe vera, but it’s longer and thinner and has spines, much like a pineapple plant.

Here’s what a pandanus leaf looks like:

The boys would come out in pairs, usually having chosen their own partner. In one hand they’d hold a special shield:

And in the other hand they’d hold a bunch of pandanus leaves tied together to make a kind of green whip. Their goal was to scrape and hit and scratch at the back of their opponent with the thorny leaves until they drew blood. Here’s a pile of pandanus leaf bundles ready for the ceremony:

We knew it was getting close because lots of people were gathering:

The fights would happen in a square “corral” made of bamboo and wood. Throngs of people were packed all around it. It looked there were more cameras than people, and it wasn’t just tourists who were taking pictures; plenty of Balinese had their cameras poised and ready.

All the boys and men who were ready to fight were standing up above on a dais with their chests and backs bare. Many had small ceremonial swords or knives tucked in their waistbands. One guy had a pack of cigarettes wedged in the back of his. Another had his cell phone.

photo by Tawnya Sargeant

I had gotten two rows back from the front of the enclosure. Standing there with my small notebook, pen, and cell phone camera, I was pressed in by people on all sides. Sweat pooled down the small of back and dripped down my sides. My dress was plastered to my skin and the sarong and temple scarf I had put on out of respect was damp with sweat. All of us who had managed to weasel our way close to a place where we could view the ritual talked about the extreme heat. But then I looked to my left and saw several Balinese kids dressed like this:

A special kind of gamelan, unique to Tenganan, started to play. The ritual was about to begin.

Some older teenager and young men came out with banana leafs, and using palm wine, made some offering to the spirits. And then the music grew more intense and the youngest boys came out to spar in pairs. Their contests were short and closely supervised—four or five seconds at the most. Most of these younger kids, Surya told us later, were siblings of the older kids the ritual was meant for. I guess they were practicing. Coming of age for Balinese takes place at age15. These young kids (they appeared as young as seven—I saw one with his two front teeth missing) really grappled with each other and intently tried to saw the thorny leaves on each other’s backs, but they rarely drew blood.

Things got more intense as the participants got older; there was a lot more laughing, jeering and cheering from the crowd. The older kids and young adults clearly relished the fighting. They were good-humored and good-natured about the whole thing; they smiled throughout as they fought intensely. And they started to draw some blood.

photo by Tawnya Sergeant

The crowd around me got more intense, pushing and shoving and I had to use my elbows to hold my ground. I was glad I was tall and big and strong. At one point, I had to grab the wood pole in front of me to steady myself. Often I was shooting with my camera held over my head. When I’d had enough (and even worried about getting crushed in the press of the crowd), I pushed my way out so I could rest with other members of our group under a bale that provided a bit of shade. As the contests continued, a lot of the older guys who’d already fought strutted around showing off their wounds. This guy was posing for pictures, and he looked at me proudly, gave me a big smile and said, “It’s fun! It’s fun.”

Everyone seemed in very good humor. They were laughing and congratulating each other and comparing injuries. They picked the thorns out of each other’s backs:

Photo credit: Julia Atwood

After the ceremony was over, they’d all be taken to the temple to be treated with a special salve for their wounds. There are never any infections and Surya said they heal quickly. And after the two-day ceremony, the whole community celebrates with a feast.

Photo credit: Julia Atwood

Even though the ritual wasn’t over, we’d seen enough. We walked up another cobbled street to the home and workshop of Ketut Murti, a master Lontar leaf artist. He’d invited us over for tea and to see his work.

On the way, we saw a wig shop. A what? A wig shop in an aboriginal village? But yes, we passed one. We also passed this big pile of palm hair. Surya says its harvested and used for roofing materials, especially for temples, and that it can last for more than fifty years without needing replacement.

Someone asked why there were piles of firewood everywhere. It was such a hot day; no one could imagine ever needing a fire for heat. Judy said it was for cooking. She added that all the food is cooked in the morning, and then during the day, and that the Balinese take food when they want it. They eat privately and quietly. Eating is not a social activity in their culture.

Ketut Murti’s home is typical of homes in this village. It had an ancestor temple to the right and also a guardian temple. There was a bale adat, a building used just for rituals. There were no chairs to sit in; Balinese sit on the ground; we did too, and also on the edges of the platforms that were part of the home and workshop.

The Lontar leaf books, another ancient art form practiced in this village, are made of palm leaf and bamboo and they fold up like accordions. When you unfold them, they have the most intricate, beautiful drawings, usually representing themes from the Ramayana or other aspects of Hindu mythology. Many of these books, Ketut told us, take him three weeks to make. He works four hours a day, and if he makes a single mistake, he has to throw away the entire book and start over. He has been practiced this art form for forty years.

Ketut told us that he creates his ink using burnt candlenut.

After he demonstrated his work and fed us, the bargaining began. Lots of people in our group wanted to bring home one of these exquisite handmade books. Karyn was the first to bargain with him. He asked for 350,000 rupiah for a lantar book of Ganesh, the Hindu elephant god. When he told her the price, Karyn looked shocked, just as Judy had taught us, and cried out dramatically, “Mahal!”

This was Ketut’s reaction:

He sold her the book for 300,000 rupiah, approximately $30 dollars.

After an hour spent in Ketut’s home, we said goodbye and moved on to visit the shop and workplace of three generations of double-ikat weavers. Tenganan is one of only three places in the world where this very special kind of weaving is practiced; the other two are Japan and the Himalayas. We had a demonstration of how the weaving is done. Only traditional designs are woven using this method; there are no free-form designs.

These are the materials used to make the dyes; one of them, once again, is the versatile candlenut, which is used to make a yellow dye.

The matriarch of the family served us sweets: sticky rice with coconut, banana and palm sugar, wrapped in banana leaf. They were delicious and helped revive us from the heat.

The weavings in this workshop (as well as some Balinese shadow puppets) were beautiful, but mostly I felt sweaty and hot and tired. Everyone was feeling a little cranky by this time, and all of us were ready to get back in our air-conditioned vans. On the way out, we saw these kids played dominos with red and yellow playing cards:

This guy greeted us as we left the walled village:

It had been a fascinating, hot, evocative afternoon. We followed it with a trip to Tirtagangga Water Place, a king’s home filled with exquisite statuary and pools, and two large swimming pools full of cool water.

photo credit: Julia Atwood
photo credit: Julia Atwood

We’d all brought suits and towels and after we ordered our dinner, we immediately went down and changed and dove into the cool, refreshing pool. It brought all us back to life even though we had to put our same sweaty clothes back on afterwards.

photo credit: Julia Atwood

I sat at dinner, surrounded by new friends, looking out at an exquisite view, feeling completely relaxed, happy and tired. This is our last day in Candidasa and East Bali. Tomorrow we move on to Ubud, the urban portion of our trip. My next post will be from there. Hopefully, we’ll have better wifi at our new hotel than we have had here (though in Bali that’s an uncertainty), so I can finally send this post out to you!

P.S. We’ve just arrived at our new hotel. I’m typing this postscript by a swimming pool overlooking a stunning rice field. This hotel does have wifi—but only in the outside common areas. “We don’t have it in the rooms,” the manager told us, “it’s not good for your health.” Let’s hope the download speed is fast enough to handle all the photos I want to put in this post in the hour I have before I get ready for dinner!

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