Bali Aga on Nusa Penida (Dijkman 2013)

In the beginning of the twenties, Controller B.J. Haga ran an investigation in his function as 'controleur van Klungkung' into the characteristics of the Bali Aga in, amongst other areas, Nusa Penida. He published a short report on the subject under the title 'Aantekeningen van den Controleur B.J.Haga' (Notes from the Controller) in Adatrechtbundels 1924, pages 453-469. He states quite drily that the Bali Aga in Kintamani and Nusa Penida use a different language from the Balinese elsewhere.

In his Customary 'Adat' juridical procedures on Noesa Penida (1922, p.460-462) he adds an annex (D) in which Punggawa Nengah Patra, March 1922, wrote a short essay on the Bali Aga (and Nusa Penida version of Balinese). Translation from Dutch and Indonesian into English by Godi Dijkman. Original Dutch & Indonesian text follows below.

Australian anthropologist Carole Muller also contributed on the subject of the Bali Aga, in 'Nusa Penida, an adventure in 1990; Walsh Bay Press Sydney, August 2013' Her article is given below.

General situation and customs 'adat-istiadat' of the people in Noes Penida: Bali Aga

haga erythrina subumbransImage right: Delundung flower (Erythrina lithosperma / subumbrans), wikipedia

Nengah Patra in Haga's publication writes: 'According to many people in Noesa Penida, there are also those - admittedly - Bali Aga (original Balinese), in the village of Koetapang, Sental Kawan and Lembongan, as the ways of these people are very different from the ways of most people.

In case of death, during the ceremony when the corpse is washed (meresihin), the corpse is given a pillow with wood made in the form of 'Moluccan tools' (perkakas meloekoe) called "kaoen lampit", and these people "megaleng kaoen lampit".

During cremation, a [ceremonial cremation tower] pagunungan (pegoenoengan) cannot be used. This construction can only be modest and is called "lelimasan".'

'The cloth used to cover (memboengkoes) "ngodi" this pagunungan can only be a 'djarang tenoenan Bali' (Nusa Penida weft cloth) called "kamben bebali". The pagunungan is to be adorned with a flower-motif cloth, depicting the flowers of the deloengdoeng tree (Dadap serep - Erythrina lithosperma/subumbrans).

The way of the people in Lembongan is to cover the pagunungan with aren palm leaves (enau), albeit only with young leaves (moeda amboe). For the cremation, they use an instrument called "kadjang", which cannot be made by a high priest (pedanda). The pagunungan called "balé-baléan" can only be made of bamboo. For most people, however, it should be made of wood instead.'

Sampalan, 25 March 1922; Poenggawa Noesa Penida, Nengah Patra

gertis1925 07 lembongan templegateImage left: Temple Gate at Pura Puseh, Puncak Sari, Lembongan Kaja (Gertis, 1925)

Korn, Gertis & Wälty

Viktor E. Korn in 1932 (1944) briefly refers to these succinct notes, after having remarked in 1929 that "The Penidanese are a well-built kind of people, amongst whom there are many left-handed".

'On the island of Nusa Penida there exists no caste system, as nearly all of the inhabitants are of the Sudra-caste. There are, however, representatives of the Ksatriya-caste in Batununggul, Nusa Gede, and it seems that the Bali Aga are also present there.' (Korn 1929/1944). Korn also refers to the ‘witch hunts’ from around 1905:

"There were doubts as to the friendliness of the population. It happened that around twenty cases of murder had come to light, which could not possibly have been committed by individuals, but by entire villages. The fear of leaks is still deep-rooted. However, if the administration were to confiscate and burn all lontar writings on black magic, there would, in his eyes, soon come and end to witchcraft."

On a more positive note, even before that, in 1924, writer and photographer A. Gertis couldn't help noticing lofty, well-built men of over 1.88 meters tall on the island.

“It is easier to climb the Merbabu, I suppose, than to persuade a Noesa-penidian to oblige you and to become temporarily a coolie even for fair pay”, sighed British writer Claire Holt in 1936. This hardly enthusiastic attitude could be due to the system of 'heerendiensten' or slavery to which the ordinary people in Nusa were subjected as if it were a form of military service. On mainland Bali, the 'heerendiensten' had already been abolished by this time.

Samuel Wälty in 1995 wrote an comprehensive article in which he gives an overview of all major publications and opinions on the Bali Aga. He states that the old Aga-Majapahit dichotomy needs to be revised and that research in a large number of villages on the southern slopes between Mount Agung and Batur should be done.

Markandeya (Djelada, 1956)

Nyoman Djelada, in his book 'Sedjarah Bali, Part I' (1956) dedicates three pages to the history of the Bali Aga and Mula and gives indications to how they ended up in Nusa Penida. He cites from two sources, the 'Markadeya Purana' and the 'Agastyaparwa'. At the time when there were no inhabitants in Bali, there was a yogi by the name of Markandeya who meditated at Bukit Damalung, Central Java. This hill is to be found in an mountainous area called Dihyang, today's Dieng. The yogi often found himself disturbed by jins and demons, after which he moved to the slopes of Mount Raung in East Java. There he continued his meditations and yoga exercises. Thanks to his diligence, faith and perseverance in meditation and yoga, here he begot divine inspiration. The supernatural voices told him he should render service to the people of Mount Raung. He followed this advice and started to open up the forest on the east of where he was meditating.

At the foot of Mount Raung, there were several villages. The inhabitants were Javanese who were the offspring of Indians and Javanese. These people were called 'Wong Aga', or Aga People. The Aga were motivated by Markandeya to 'produce' (melaksanakan) the supernatural voices. At the instigation of these supernatural voices, Markandeya went to a place (in Bali) accompanied by some 8,000 'Wong Aga'. There, he found many natural water sources, and instructed the locals to clear the land of forests and to build rice fields. These endeavours, however, failed due to repeated diseases, attacks by tigers and enormous snakes with deadly bites. Seeing these works were not having the desired effect, Markandeya went back to his place of isolation and started to meditate anew on the slope of Mount Raung. He pleaded the gods for an answer how the works by the villagers were to be continued. Again, he was bestowed with divine inspiration, and henceforth departed again to the same place in Bali with some 4,000 men. After his arrival in the forest with his followers, he buried five kinds of metal ('Pancadatu') which were thought to possess the strength to ward off evil forces and withstand supernatural powers. He buried the Pancadatu at the foot of the Gunung Agung, which he considered a holy and 'angker'.

This time Markandeya and his followers were in luck, and their attempts at clearing the forest was successful. Broad terrains for rice fields and agriculture were built, but also places to build houses. The people in his company were given enough land to be able to live and grow their own rice. At the place where they started to build houses, there is a village by the name of Puakan (Indonesian: 'Pembagian'), as a sign that here the land was divided and given to the people. According to mentioned sources, the place where Markandeya meditated is now called Payogan. Not far from this place, there lies a temple 'Pura Pecampuhan' where in former times Markandeya 'membulatkan ciptanya' whereby his works could rapidly be executed. This temple lies at the meeting point of two rivers Wos, west of Ubud. Hence the name Pe(r)campuhan. The name of the mountain is 'Lebah', which means low. The place where Markadeya buried the Pancadatu is considered holy, and therefore was given the name 'Basaki' or 'Wasuki', currently known as Besakih.

Later on, Markadeya moved his meditation place to the west. Here, he created a Mandala and he erected a temple in worship of the gods. This temple was called Pura Murwa, which means 'Beginning' (Purba), and can now be found near Payangan, a word derived from Pahyangan, a place to worship the gods (Para Hyangan). The people who assisted in the moving of Markadeya's place of meditation were called the "Wong Aga Bali" or "Wong Bali Mula", since they are considered the original inhabitants who started clearing the forests. The Aga spread fast and produced offspring that currently are thought of as the original inhabitants of 44 places in Bali. Lembongan, one of the smaller sibling islands of Nusa Penida, is one of them. Many of these places, says Djelada, lie in the mountains, by which it can be deducted that the word 'Aga' means mountain, and 'Mula' means original.

Ida Bagus Sidemen in an interview in October 2007, mentions that W.O.Nieuwenkamp in 1904 came across many people who claim they were descendants of the Aga. Sidemen in the late 1970s did not find anyone who admits to being a descendant form the original pre-Majapahit Balinese called Aga, also called ‘Orang Pasaman’. The last Aga King Sri Ashtasura Ratna Bhumi Banten (1325-1343 AD) was a follower of 'Tantrayana (Tantrism) Niwreti', 'aliran kiri'. The Aga have been accused of being backward and are considered ignorant by the majority of Majapahit Balinese. Since their last King practiced black magic, the Aga descendants are considered to follow him even today in this tradition.

Writer Nyoman Usana in Lembongan in an interview in June 2009, says that at Gunung Agung there used to be no wet rice cultivation, and instead they grew Padi gaga, from the verb 'ngaga(g)', to open. This is similar the word 'Aga', and another indication that the Aga were the first to inhabit the slopes of Bali's most revered mountain. Or were they? Usana explains that the Bali Aga are of a totally different type than the Bali Mula who were living in Bali before anybody else did. When the Wong Aga came to Bali from Java to Gunung Agung in order to clear the forest there were already people living in Bali, and they are considered the Bali Mula, the original inhabitants. Here, more study is required into possible differences between Bali Aga and Bali Mula.

Pasek Kayuselem, descendants from Songan (Batur)

aga saniregeh

Images left: Pak Sani (I Nyoman Matir), Toyapakeh 2009; I Wayan Regeh, Denpasar 2009

I Wayan Regeh, former village head of Ped in Nusa Penida, is an old man, born around 1920. He tells the story of the Pasek Kayuselem (Bali Aga) and the Pasek Gelgel (descendants from the Gelgel court) in Songan. In spite of a pacifying marriage between the two clans, they were at loggerheads for a long time until in the 1930 the village of Songan, at the northern end of Lake Batur, was divided into two parts: Songan A and Songan B (south of A).

Pak Sani, or I Nyoman Matir, as his real name is (interview 5 June 2009) was born in 1925 in Jungutbatu (Lembongan) and has lead a rather tragic life. He and his family moved to Toyapakeh in 1975. Pak Sani never went to school. He is the eldest of five, and when he was 20 years of age, his mother died. Not only did his mother die at a young age, also his wife and two of his eight children died young. His youngest son was only six months old when his wife died. He is still in mourning over this loss. Currently, he has three children who live in Denpasar, two in Jungutbatu and one son who lives with him in Toyapakeh. He says that he and his family still worship their ancestors at Pura Kawitan at Songan ('kawitan' is origin, Balinese). They visit the temple once a year, at Tilem Kedasa, each time the temple celebrates its 'birthday' or Odalan, an occasion called 'Petoyangan'. His forefathers stem from Bugeni Kayu, a place around six kilometers up from Songan, a long and steep climb apparently. Hence the name of the Pasek Kayu Selem (Black Wood).

Genealogy of the Pasek Kayu Selem

aga kayuselem

Genealogy Mahagotra

Pasek Kayu Selem

Writer Ananda Kusuma adds the following information to the first male at the top of the pyramid: Mpu Semeru. He had great inner strength and he 'mengadakan" Bujangga Mpu Bandesa Dryakah, also known as Bhagawan Kamareka at Tampurhyang (Batur) who meditated in Goa Song (Songan) and was visited by 'Bidadari Kuning' ('Yellow Fairy'). After he got married, Bhagawan Mpu Kamareka begat five children. No years are mentioned.

In this genealogy, there are two women with the name Ni Ayu Taruni, one who married Ki Kayu Selem, and the other who married Ki Panerejon. This last name is given twice, in a slightly different spelling: 'Panerajon' and 'Panerejon'. Normal lines indicate 'children of', dotted lines indicate 'married to'.

Further notes on the Bali Aga of Nusa Penida (Muller, 1989/2013)

muller-2013-coverIn the beginning of the 1920s, a short report was published on some characteristics of the Bali Aga in Nusa Penida by the Dutch Controller of Klungkung B. J. Haga (1924:453-469). He stated quite clearly that the Bali Aga on the island of Nusa and in the Kintamani area spoke in a different language from the Balinese elsewhere. Also in 1924, writer and photographer A. Gertis, also remarked on "lofty, well-built men over 1.88 meters tall on the island". V. E. Korn briefly referred to these succinct notes in 1932 when he earlier remarked that there is no caste system on Nusa Penida as nearly all the inhabitants were Bali Aga. However, Korn also mentioned there were a few representatives of the upper castes living in Batununggul, Nusa Gede. He said people of the island were well-built and that many of them were 'left-handed'. Korn also referred to the 'witch hunts' from around 1905 and doubted the inhabitants were very friendly as about twenty cases of murder had recently been reported. He thought they could not have been committed by individuals, but probably by entire villages, as still occasionally occurs in Bali today. The fear of witches (leyaks) is still deep-rooted. In Korn's opinion, "if the administration were to confiscate and burn all lontar writings on black magic, there would soon come to end of witchcraft" (Korn, 1929).

It is interesting to read in another variant of the Taro Markandeya legend in which some indications of how the Bali Aga came to be in Nusa Penida are given. Cited from two sources, the 'Markandeya Purana' and these versions are 'Agastyaparawa' [Agastyaparwa?] very similar, but much more elaborated than another brief account previously recorded. (Muller, 2011:3-4). People who followed the yogi Markandeya to Bali from the village of Aga on the slopes of Mount Raung, East Java, were said to be the descendants of Indians and the Javanese. As the yogi stopped and meditated at many places along the way his followers assisted Rei [Resi?] Markandeya in clearing forests and in building the main temple at Taro, the first to have four entrances corresponding to the cardinal points. His followers were considered the original inhabitants, called Bali Aga. After they settled and produced many offspring that, according to this version, were currently thought of as the original inhabitants of forty-four villages in Bali, including Lembongan on one of the smaller islands of Nusa Penida. The many archaic villages and the people of the big Island were not included in this account (Djelada, 1956).

A modern writer from Lembongan [Nyoman Usana] recently suggested that the Bali Aga were a totally different type than the Balinese who were considered the original (mula) inhabitants of Bali and Nusa Penida. He further suggested a study of the possible differences between them and also the clan of Pasek Kayuselem, descendants from Songan in Bali (Nyoman Usana, 2009). A former village head of Ped in Nusa Penida, I Wayan Regeh, born around 1920, was a descendant of the Bali Aga clan of Pasek Kayuselem ('Black wood') in Songan. Located at the northwestern end of Lake Batur, the village of Songan was divided into two parts: the ancient temple was orientated west situated on the highest land and east to the lake. A new temple was built on the lake for the dissident descendants of the Gelgel clan, facing northeast towards Mount Agung (Muller, 2011:46-47, 388).



  • Djelada, Nyoman - Sedjarah Bali, Part I, 1956
  • Gertis, A. – Enkele aantekeningen omtrent Noesa Penida, in: 'Jaarverslag van de Topografische Dienst in Nederlandsch-Indië over 1924', twintigste jaargang, "Weltevreden" Topografische Inrichting, 1925
  • Haga, B.J. – Adatproces op Noesa Penida (1922), Adatrechtbundels XXIII Java en Bali. Aantekeningen van den Controleur B.J.Haga – 's-Gravenhage: Nijhoff, 1924. – Serie U.Bali en Lombok, No.40 Adatproces op Noesa Penida, 1922; pp. 460-462
  • Korn, V.E. – Noesa Penida, in: Cultureel Indie, onder redactie van De Afdeling Volkenkunde van het Koloniaal Instituut Amsterdam, zesde jaargang, Leiden, E.J.Brill, 1944
  • Kusuma, Sri Reshi Ananda - Silsilah Orang Suci dan Orang Besar di Bali, Kayumas Agung Denpasar, 2nd print, 2004, 81pp. (p.19-21)
  • Muller, Carole - Nusa Penida, an adventure in 1990; Walsh Bay Press Sydney, August 2013

* original Dutch text (Korn)*

De Penidanezen (zijn) een goedgebouwd slag van menschen, onder wie veel linkshandigen voorkomen. Over het vriendelijk karakter der bevolking werd nogal getwijfeld. Er waren nl. een twintgtal moorden aan het licht gekomen, die niet door enkelingen doch door hele dorpen waren begaan. De vrees voor Lejaks is nog diep geworteld. Doch wanneer het bestuur alle lontargeschriften over zwarte kunst zou innemen en verbranden, zou het met de hekserij z.i. [zijns inziens] spoedig uit zijn.

* original Dutch & Indonesian text (Haga)*

D. Dari hal keadaan dan adat-istiadat orang-orang di Noes Penida (p.460-462)

Kata banjak orang di Noesa Penida ada djoega orang jang dikira bangsa Bali aga (Bali asal), jaitoe di desa Koetapang, Sental Kawan dan di Lembongan, karena tjara-tjaranja orang itoe ada banjak berlainan dengan tjara-tjaranja orang kebanjakan, jaitoe:

Kalau ada orang mati, maka pada waktoenja memdandikan majit itoe "meresihin", majit itoe diberi bantal dengan kajoe jang diboewatnja seroepa perkakas meloekoe jang dinamakan "kaoen lampit", serta orang itoe "megaleng kaoen lampit".

Kalau mengaben maka wadahnja tida boleh pakai alat wadah jang dinamakan "pegoenoengan". Dan bangoen wadahnja hanja polosan sadja, diseboet "lelimasan". Kain jang dipakainja menoetoep (memboengkoes) "ngodi" wadahnja itoe tida boleh pakai kain lain dari pada kain djarang tenoenan Bali (tenoenan Noesa) jang dinamakan "kamben bebali". Dan wadahnja dihijasi berboenga-boenga dengan boenganja pohon deloengdoeng.

Dan tjara orang jang di Lembongan wadahnja ditoetoep dengan daoen aren (enau) jang masih moeda amboe. Orang itoe pakai alat mengaben jang dinamakan "kadjang", boekan bikinan dari Pedanda. Alat wadahnja jang dinamakan "balé-baléan" hanja diboeat dari pada bamboe sadja. Sedang boeat orang kabanjakan mesti diboeat dari pada kajoe.

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