Photos by Putu Sayoga/Getty Images
Text by Ye Charlotte Ming
The ancient village of Tenganan is one of the most secluded communities in the Indonesian archipelago. Set against a backdrop of lush hills in eastern Bali, it is a tranquil home to about 700 residents.
However, once a year, crowds of spectators descend on the village to observe the celebration of “Usaba Sambah,” a Hindu festival spanning the entire fifth month of the local calendar.
The celebration includes a combat ritual called “Makare-Kare,” or “Pandan War,” where bare chested men in headdresses and colorful sarongs attack one another using thorny pandan leaves as weapons and woven rattan as shields.
The “war” has no age limit, with men in their 60s and children as young as 7 coming to test their strength. The goal is to draw blood, and any area of exposed skin is fair game. But as fierce as it gets, once the battle is over, fighters come together to heal each other’s wounds, applying a yellow medicine made of turmeric and vinegar.
As men proudly partake in this bloody duel to prove their masculinity, unmarried women in the village gather to observe the spectacle from the seats of a revolving wooden Ferris wheel, powered by foot peddles.
Descendants of the island’s first settlers, the Bali Aga, the Tengananese practice the ritual to pay tribute to the Hindu god of war, Indra, and to honor their ancestors.
The Tengananese believe themselves to be the deity’s chosen people and therefore observe a distinctive set of cultural practices. For example, the village has had strict rules about who earns membership into their community. A person has to be born in the village to be considered a Tengananese, and those who move away or marry outsiders have been banished. Still, villagers are beginning to interpret the rules more loosely as the community has not seen significant population growth in years.
Although Tenganan has embraced tourism since the ’70s like other Balinese villages, there are no hotels or commercial homestays inside the community’s walls. Visitors are not permitted to stay in the village overnight. But many Tengananese are still happy to share insights on their way of life and will warmly lead visitors into their homes, where they make traditional crafts such as geringsing — a double ikat textile among the rarest in Bali, which only the Tengananese know how to knit.
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