Are you Bali Aga? Northern Bali Adventure

From the temples of Goa Gajah, Goa Kawi, and Tirtu Emple, I was off to something older than Bali’s Hindu culture.  It’s older animist culture. That of the Bali Aga who, if my guidebook is to believed, reside in ancient villages in Sembiran and Julah up north of the island. Unlike Tengganan in the southeast, these two villages were off the tourist radar. In fact, my driver hadn’t been there and was amazed I knew those places.

The Bali Aga were the original Balinese in the sense that when the Madjapahit Empire took over what is now Indonesia, they refused to adopt the Javanese culture.

We headed north via Kintamani passing through Danau Bratan. At a very high elevation, it was understandably cold and misty. From the main road, we took a small around that led straight to Sembiran. My driver was merely relying on his general sense of orientation and instructions from people on the street.

There was hardly any other vehicle on that road which was good because it was so narrow. We traveled up and down the spine of the mist-covered mountain. Not for the faint of heart due to deep ravines on one side, the scenery was beautiful nevertheless. Lush greenery and beautiful flowers. From afar, we finally saw the tin roofs of clusters of houses and we soon arrived at our destination.

It was not what I expected. It looked liked any contemporary Balinese desa. The driver asked a young man who confirmed that indeed we were in Sembiran and they were Bali Aga. Questions about megalithic stones was met with a puzzled look. I asked for an old temple and we were brought to the Pura Dalem.

Maybe we were in the wrong Sembiran? We went to the village hall and asked a group of men who confirmed what the young man had said earlier. Indeed, we were in Sembiran and they were Bali Aga. As for any large stones, they knew nothing about it. Whaaattt? “But the internet said . . .” I insisted to my driver. To be fair, he seemed to be as bothered as I am. One more try. We stopped to ask an old man puffing on a cigar by the roadside.
“Where were the ancient houses?”
“A long time ago. No more. All new.”
That was the death blow. I had come v all the way for nothing.

Hopefully, Julah would not disappoint.

Indeed, Julah, was Bali Aga. A long row of family compounds lined a single street that composed this tiny tiny village. Ritual offerings hung by the doorways. Several had chickens in them. At the end of the village was a temple sey amidst spacious leafy grounds and if my guidebook was to be believed, the large ancient tree was where the villagers used to lay their dead to decompose just like what the Bali Aga in Trunyan do.

We explored one of the family compounds where we were warmly received. Unlike the Balinese, the Julah Bali Aga had a temple for each of the families living there. In that case, three. The temples were large square houses with rectangular roofs and were placed on one side of the compound. Inside were placed ceremonial paraphernalia. I also got to see a tradutional kitchen with wood-fired stoves.

I bade good bye to the family head and gave a donation of IDR 20,000.

Julah was a real village untouched by tourism. Nobody was selling anything. The people were merely living there.

I had finally found my Bali Aga.

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