Ayu has turned 12 and it is time for her Menek Medaha coming of age ceremony. She lives in Tenganan Pegeringsingan, a small traditional village in east Bali that is referred to as Bali Aga because its culture and traditions pre-date the 1342 invasion of Bali by the Majapahit kingdom of East Java. The village has extensive land holdings and several tenant villages from which it receives a share of harvests. Historically, the people of Tenganan lived off of these distributed harvests, and in turn performed daily rituals for the entire landholding.
Tenganan is famous for its tradition of making geringsing textiles that employ the extraordinarily complex double ikat technique that is used elsewhere only by a handful of weavers in India and Japan’s Ryuku islands. Tenganan’s traditions, in both the geringsing motifs and its technique, and the use of ritual Ferris wheels, suggest historical links to India.
On the day of her Menek Medaha ceremony, Ayu wakes up at 4 am and goes over to the house of an auntie to have her face made up. Afterwards, and back at her home, another auntie helps her dress in traditional attire including a geringsing textile as a breast wrap. As Ayu’s headdress of gold ornamentation is prepared, and as necklaces and bracelets are added to her costume, she looks much older than her 12 years.
Ayu’s parents are members of the kerama desa traditional village council that both makes village decisions and performs the village’s daily ritual obligations. If both a bride and groom were raised in Tenganan and each underwent the training every young Tengananese person receives, then they become members of the kerama desa upon marriage. Rank on the council is strictly determined by length of service, with each couple being retired upon the entry into the council of their first child upon his or her marriage.
The formal part of a young person’s training in the village traditions begins with their entry into one of three subak youth groups. Each of these groups is associated with an ashram in the home of the group’s teacher. Ayu is accompanied by her aunties, parents and younger brother as she leaves her house to begin her studies with the Gantih Wayah subak. Only three girls are entering the village subak organisations this year, and the other members of Gantih Wayah eagerly await Ayu’s arrival.
Ayu is carried on her father’s shoulder into the ashram where she will study the village’s ceremonial life for the next month. Offerings are made to welcome Ayu into the ashram and initiate her studies.
Ayu takes offerings to the houses of all close members of her family to formally inform them of her new status as a member of the Gantih Wayah subak. At the end of this ceremony, Ayu will be taken to the ashram where she will stay for a month.
During the ceremonial month that runs from mid-June to mid-July, three 5-meter high hand-powered wooden Ferris wheels are erected down the center of Tenganan’s main street, one in front of each of the main meeting pavilions. On the evening of the Menek Medaha ceremony, the young girls of each subak will ceremonially swing on the Ferris wheels.