Tenganan Cultural Trip – Bali

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My last trip to Bali was focused on learning more about the customs and daily life of the people of this religious island – and what better place to see this than the ancient village of Tenganan. I was eager to return to this cultural highlight after doing a photography workshop there with international photographer Suki, you can read about that trip and see the photographs from the workshop by clicking here. I was also able to put some of the portraiture skills I’d learned to good use on this second visit.

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I hired excellent driver Ketut to take me on a photography day from Ubud, who proposed the itinerary for my last day in Bali. We departed in the early morning in darkness, arriving at the tourist beach of Sanur for the sunrise – where a number of other tourists and exercising locals were already waiting to enjoy one of Bali’s classic sights. We grabbed some chilli-filled breakfast at a local stall and some strong Bali coffee to wake up in a firey fashion, before Ketut drove me to a salt farming beach further along the coast.

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Here we wandered down through a small settlement to find flattened sand on the dark beach, and an old man going back and forth between the sand “fields” and the sea, filling buckets of sea water and then sloshing them out methodically over the flattened area. The purpose of this is to saturate the sand with salt water, where it then dries. The sand is then collected and filtered to extract a second batch of salt water, which is then left to evaporate in wooden troughs, leaving behind rock salt deposits.

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It’s an old farming method which is still viable today due to the demand of salt in the country. Ketut chatted to a lady who was covering the troughs, telling me that they had experienced a poor season thanks to adverse weather – wet and cloudy conditions were thwarting the evaporation methods. On busier mornings you can find many salt farmers collecting the sea water, but close to dawn as the work is done early to avoid the harsh daylight heat.

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Our next destination was Tenganan, the culturally significant village I’d visited before. This settlement retains many old customs and buildings which have been lost elsewhere in Bali. We were lucky enough to arrive on a ceremonial day, a coming of age celebration for young men and women in the village. The following days would see a number of large ceremonies, and the streets were full of the ladies of the village making ornate decorations from palm leaf and flowers in preparation. Other villagers prepared vast amounts of food, and a pig slowly turned on a spit over open coals in the town square, smelling delicious. There weren’t many tourists today and I wandered around taking photos of the friendly villagers.

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We met a number of other Balinese photographers who had come to witness today’s initial ceremony, where the men of the village would tour the village elder’s houses on a bonding ritual involving body paint and plenty of alcohol. It was great to meet them, one guy had come all the way from Java to see the village and was lucky enough to arrive on this special day with his vintage Polaroid camera, another was a professional wedding photographer sporting a superb Lecia camera and there were a few others who were more interested in cultural learning and documentation, including a professor from Japan who has lived in the village for over 6 months, still trying to make sense of all the unique customs in Tenganan.

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The men finally appeared, in traditional dress, and went to the village leader’s house on the main street to receive a reception of food and alcohol. We were welcome to go inside and watch, a friendly gesture – the people of the village are happy to share their customs. I chatted to the wife of one of the participants, her English was good and she was able to explain to me more about the ceremony and I took some photos of her and her friend in the craft shop in the front of the compound, matching many of the other houses on the main street – Tenganan being famous for its weaving and other handicrafts.

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alanstockphotography-07766After an hour or two, the already rather inebriated men, in good spirits (boom tish) and now covered in body paint, moved on to the next elders house and we had lunch at an alley stall. It was getting quite late so I popped in to get some last photos of the men and graciously received an offer for a cup of strong rice wine, no wonder they were so merry! The Japanese professor had also been roped into the proceedings and was sporting a massive grin as they plied him with booze! I said my thanks and made my way out.

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But as I was leaving, I first spied an amazing old lady resting under one of the communal rest shelters, who was happy for me to take a photo, although she didn’t speak any English. I also ran into a man I’d met during my last visit, a friendly weaver who specialises in Tenganan’s unique double weaving technique and got a few shots before I had to leave. I also enjoyed watching the kids playing on the big traditional wooden carousel – safety standards be damned – as they swung round and round.

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As it was my last day in Bali, I was gutted to miss out on the evenings celebrations, when the true ceremony began, and the festivities of the next few days. But one day I hope to return to this wonderful village and witness more of their unique ceremonies – if you visit Bali, be sure to visit Tenganan and be whisked back in time, and don’t be afraid to chat to the friendly villagers and learn about their special culture!

Here’s a gallery of more photos from the day, click to enlarge.

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