Our motorbike excursion took us to Candidasa, a beach resort town along the coast north and east of Sanur. We spent a couple of relaxing days here at a villa situated on the beach and surrounded with tropical plantings including numerous coconut palms.
Our main reason for choosing this location was to go to Tenganan, one of Bali’s oldest villages and a place of deep traditions predating the arrival of Hindu and other religions. The trip to the village climbed up through lush tropical forests. The village, carefully arranged according to plans revealed by their creator, consists of two parallel streets facing the ocean to the south and Mount Agung, Bali’s tallest volcano, to the north. Private homes and places of worship are set to the edges and a long central area between the two streets provides common places for meetings and markets. No vehicles are permitted inside the walled village so it is quiet and peaceful. The social structure is very rigid forbidding mixing with other Balinese and steeped in ceremony and a highly organized form of governance. Tourists have only recently been permitted to enter and only a few were around when we were there. We got our first close look at caged roosters that were held in bamboo cages outside of many homes. These birds are used throughout Bali in cock fights and are prized possessions as part of a rich male culture of gambling.
We came in search of ikat weaving. Ikat is a specific type of weaving in which threads, warp (the threads that run the length of a fabric) or sometimes weft (threads that go across the fabric) are dyed according to a desired pattern before weaving begins. The pattern is conceived and then bundles of thread are wrapped according to the pattern so that they resist color when dyed. If several colors are used, then several tying and untyings must take place to develop the various colors in the pattern. Once this dyeing is completed the loom can be warped and weaving begins, often on a simple backstrap loom. Ikat is believed to have originated in Indonesia but developed independently in Central and South America as well as in Japan, India and Uzbekistan. While it is often done using silk, wool or cotton, the ikat of Tenganan is done exclusively with locally produced hand spun cotton. The dyes in the best work are derived from natural materials; the dyeing process may take weeks or months.
While no ikat weaving is easy, warp ikat is simpler than weft ikat because it is possible to see the pattern emerge as the loom is threaded and care can be taken at this time to properly align threads. With weft ikat the loom is threaded with plain threads and the pattern develops as weaving progresses; this requires much closer attention to get the alignment right one thread at a time.
What makes Tenganan unique is its double ikat. In addition to this small village, there are only two other places on earth where double ikat is practiced, in Japan and India. Here both warp and weft fibers are resist dyed so the pattern must be conceived in both directions before weaving and all elements of the weft must align with those of the warp in order to get a clear design. From creating the cotton thread, to tying, then dyeing the fibers and finally weaving the fabric may take most of a year. The product is considered to have mystical powers.
We didn’t delude ourselves, as textile junkies we knew we were going to buy a piece and we knew the price would be high. It was.