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The Power of Cultural Tourism: Discovering Penglipuran Village

I enjoyed a wonderful day visiting Penglipuran, a traditional village in Bangli, Bali. This village has become well-known as a tourist destination for those seeking to learn about the traditional lives and customs of authentic Balinese culture. Even with masses of visitors I was captivated. My research told me to expect traditional architecture, unique customs, and traditions nestled within a bamboo forest. I had heard that the village was also known for its Barong performance, a traditional dance that showcases the battle between good and evil. My day was everything I expected and so much more. Today I'm going to share what I learned and experienced, along with some practical information and tips. I encourage all tourists to Bali to put this village on your Bali itinerary.

Getting There

Penglipuran Village is located in the Bangli Regency of Bali, approximately an hour's drive (depending upon traffic, which is always a huge factor in Bali) from Ubud. As mentioned in previous Bali blogs, there are no public transportation options. The easiest (and safest) option is to hire a private driver or join a tour group which will also include other great places to visit. The Gojek app quotes about IDR 350 000 for a one-way trip but a private driver will cost between IDR 600,00 - 800 000 for up to 4 people sharing a car.

If you are more brave than I am, you can rent a scooter and drive yourself but please be very careful. Upon leaving the village, my driver and I encountered a scene where a tourist had driven off the road into a ravine and needed to be evacuated and sent to the hospital! Driving conditions are very different here than in any western country. Scooters and cars drive much closer, have more passengers and burdens, and roads are not nearly as wide or well-paved as most of us are used to in our home country

Penglipuran Village is open to visitors on weekdays from 08:00 to 18:00. The cost of admission is very reasonable and will please even those who travel on a tight budget -- only IDR 250,000 (less than $2.50 CAD) for adults.

The Village

Upon entering the village, you will see rows of similar houses on each side of a single straight, stone-paved street that leads to the local temple. In front of the houses, there are many stone carvings and gorgeous gardens. Each house has its own gate along the path. Every house, garden, gate, road, and temple is designed using the traditional Balinese philosophy of architecture. This was the first place I visited where I really noticed the crowds because it not only included international tourists but domestic tourists travelling during their festive season.

While travelling in Bali, I have gotten quite used to the garbage, organic litter, and animal droppings but here, it was spotless. This is not because of tourism but is essential part for the Penglipuran residents, who believe that order and cleanliness are valuable and respectable virtues. Environmental awareness is part of their daily culture. Villagers and tourists are not permitted to litter. Each month, the women of the village gather to collect and sort trash. Organic waste is used for fertilizer; inorganic trash is sold for recycling and collected in their "trash bank".

Tourism has become important to this community by creating jobs and generating income for the local people. The concept of "community-based tourism" ensures that each resident benefits. Those who act as guides, parking attendants, and ticket sellers are employed by the village and paid wages from the profits earned. Each pekarangan (house & yard) sells souvenirs, snacks and beverages and returns IDR 5,000 for each item sold to support village development

Village Life

In Penglipuran, the village uses the traditional methods of bamboo architecture. Almost everything you see is made from bamboo gathered from the bamboo forest surrounding the village, including their gates and doorways, furniture, and kitchens. Much of the construction, such as the bamboo roof shingles, are unique to this community.

Villagers use 4 or 5 layers of bamboo, linked together to build roofs. Woven bamboo is used to create walls to divide rooms. Pekarangans can be entered through two sides. The main entrance is the main door at the gate called the angkul-angkul. Each pekarangan will have a family temple where their god and ancestors are honoured. These temples are only for the family. The main home includes the kitchen and a sleeping area. There is also usually an area for laundry and livestock -- mainly chickens.

Visitors will be welcome to step inside the pekarangangs. Don't be shy about asking permission to enter their kitchens. In most cases, you won't have to ask, the locals are very proud to show you around, although few speak English beyond what is required to sell their wares.

Although at first each may seem almost identical, each family has their own style of colour and decorations. The kitchens still use a firewood hearth, often supplemented by portable propane stoves. Electricity is used very sparingly, most often used for fridges. Many sell clothing, souvenirs, snacks and beverages.

A local favourite beverage is a drink called cem-cem, a green herbal drink made from cemcem, betel, dapdap, and orange leaves, with cinnamon, palm sugar, and coconut water. I bought one to try and took a sip before translating all the ingredients. Unfortunately, I have an allergy to coconut so couldn't drink anymore (no worries, I always carry some antihistamines and quickly downed one to carry on my day). It was an interesting but very refreshing flavour.

Part of the community is segregated from the rest. The main village is known as Karang Kerti but near the entrance on the outer part of the village is Karang Memandu. This is where polygamous families live. Because this practice is strictly forbidden in the village, a man with multiple wives must live here. He loses all his rights and obligations to the village. They will be given a house but they are no longer allowed to use the public roads, go to temple, or participate in the traditional activities. My driver told me that those families in Karang Memandu are totally shunned and the other villagers do not even speak to these families.

Marriage and family is very important. Most of the locals marry other locals to preserve their family lineage, meaning almost all residents are blood-related to each other. If a man marries outside the village, he is still required to fulfill his obligations. It is required that all residents obey two types of laws: the Awig (written laws) and Drestha (unwritten customs) which together include rules on monogamy, which temples can be used for worship, and the preparation and presentation of offerings, food preparation and other important tasks required for celebrations.

The village is organized into smaller communities called banjars. Each has its own leader, temple, meeting hall and community hall. The banjars closest to the entrance were the first to be built and are less sacred and are more likely to be used for more worldly and secular activities. This is where the biggest souvenir shops and warungs (family run restaurants) are found.

The banjars closer to the main temples are more sacred and the residents are more connected to the spiritual and religious activities. For the Balinese Hindus, sacred space is connected to the concept of the mountain, the holiest place on earth. The temple is the symbol of the mountain, explaining the shape of the buildings and gates that are part of the homes and temples.

The Temples

There are three main temples within the village: Pura Desa, Pura Puseh, and Pura Dalem. The main temple is Pura Desa where most of the ceremonies happen. Pura Puseh is for honouring ancestors and provides protection for the village. The Pura Dalem is the temple for the god of death and protects the village from evil spirits. Visitors cannot enter these temples but can walk around and enjoy the beautifully carved stone work, statues, and the gardens surrounding them. Each family also has their own family temple where they honour their ancestors and make offerings for their journeys through the afterlife.

Besides the myriad temples, there are also many smaller shrines scattered throughout the village, each one dedicated to a specific deity or important village ancestor. These are usually found near the entrances of homes or at important crossroads.

Barong Performance

A real treat for visitors are the barong performances, located at the end of the village behind the temple. I heard the music and rushed to the performance area. The Barong is the king of the spirit world and an enemy of Rangda, the demon queen and mother of the spirit guards in Balinese mythology. The dance includes several parts, featuring a battle between Barong and Rangda representing the eternal battle between good and evil. The performance has three main parts.

The first part includes dancers in traditional Balinese clothing who make very gentle and flowing moves and introduce the audience to the story. Unfortunately, I didn't arrive in time to see the "human" dancers. I found myself a place to watch behind the musicians playing traditional instruments. This suited me perfectly as a musician interested in folk and traditional music. I think I spent as much time watching the musicians as I did the performers.

As I arrived the Barong was just entering the performance area for the second stage of the dance. This particular barong was represented as a tiger in two-person costume who moved around the performance area interacting with the tourists and musicians.

Following the story's introduction, the performance moves into the second part, a battle scene. At the time, I didn't understand that the Barong had changed into a monkey-faced character. Once I figured that part out, the whole thing made a lot more sense. This Barong sang to the audience before the entry of Rangda, another character. The two argued and battled through more dramatic movements as the battle intensifies. The Penglipuran Barong is a fairly tame performance as compared to other performances, with the battle being more an argument than a violent clash, but it was still very entertaining.

In most Barong dances, this part of the performance will include a Keris dance, where the dancers use a knife called a kris as a weapon. This is considered a very sacred part of the performance where the dancers enter a trance-like state. In these performances, Rangda casts a spell on Barong's soldiers and orders them to kill themselves. The dancers then begin to stab themselves with their kris. The Barong and priest quickly cast protective spells. This was not a part of the Penglipuran performance.

I really enjoyed the entire performance. The costumes, dances, and music were complex and mesmerizing.

The Bamboo Forest

After spending time exploring the village, I took a walk through the bamboo forest that surrounds thee village. The 15 different bamboo species cultivated here are considered to be the highest quality bamboo found in Bali. The people believe that the bamboo forest was planted by their ancestors and is considered a symbol of their ancestral roots. The forest walk is short but the forest is cool and thick with towering bamboo filtering the sun.

Here bamboo is revered for its strength, flexibility, and versatility. It's used for the construction of homes, furniture and tools. It is also used for handicrafts like baskets, mats, and other useful household items. They also use bamboo to make traditional musical instruments such as the angklung and rindik that are used in ceremonial and cultural performances.

Every part of the bamboo plant is used. Leaves are used for roofing materials. The shoots are used as an ingredient in many Balinese dishes. The trunk is used for sturdier building material and handicrafts and the roots are used for medicines and to add colour as natural dye.

Bamboo is also the main material used to create penjor. Penjors are tall bamboo poles decorated with coconut leaves and colourful ornamentation and are an essential part of the Balinese culture and traditions. Creating a penjor requires great skill and craftmanship. A tall and straight pole is chosen for its strength and is then carefully bent at the top. Intricately woven coconut leaves, colourful flowers, fruits and other ornamentation is added.

Penjors are most often used during religious festivals or important events like weddings or harvest celebrations as a symbol of gratitude to the gods for their blessings. They are believed to have spiritual significance and represent the connection between heaven and earth and are believed to bring good luck, prosperity and blessings.

I had seen many penjors many times while moving throughout Bali. I found it fascinating to learn about the construction and purpose of the penjors. I learned to recognize areas with celebrations by looking for rows of penjors throughout the rest of my stay in Bali.

I thoroughly enjoyed my day in Penglipuran Village. It is a remarkable place to immerse yourself in the heart of Balinese culture and traditions. From the Barong performance and bamboo forest walk to the penjors and traditional houses, every aspect of the village showcases the deep reverence and respect that the Balinese people have for their heritage. I recommend trying to organize your visit around Galungan and getting there early in the morning to see the young girls dressed in beautiful traditional clothing carrying tall banten trays of offerings on their heads as they visit their pura or the main temple.


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