You will reach this remote, isolated and mystical village along Lake Batur by boat. Here you can discover unique cemeteries where bodies are left behind and broken down in the open air. This is why this village is also known as Skull Island. As if seeing skeletons isn’t creepy enough, this village is surrounded by double danger from natural fire and water. It is located under an active volcano and on the banks of an unstable crater lake.
Bali Aga people
The residents of Trunyan are considered to be Bali Aga people, which means “original” or “old” Balinese people. The Bali Aga are remnants of the Austronesians who escaped in the mid-14th century when the island came under Majapahit Javanese control. Since then, the Bali Aga have avoided interactions with outsiders as a way to preserve their traditional way of life. These people live in isolation from the other Balinese people.
The residents practise ancient rituals that predate the advent of Hinduism or Buddhism. They are not followers of Agama Tirta (“holy water religion”) but maintain their own animist traditions. The main temple of the village has been built according to plate inscriptions in at least the 10th-century AD. Nowadays the Bali Aga people only live in Trunyan and in another village Tenganan in the east of Bali. They make up a very small percentage of the Balinese island population.
Skull island receives its name from one of the most talked-about aspects of Bali Aga society: their death ritual. The corpses of people who die young and are not married will be buried. However, the corpses of people who die when they are married will be put in bamboo cages under sacred Banyan trees. The decomposition of these corpses should give off a strong fragrance all over the village, but the strong aroma of the sacred surrounding Banyan trees obscures the smell of death. As soon as the corpse is decomposed, villagers will disassemble the skeleton and place it on the village altar to be displayed. Outsiders acknowledge these altars as open cemeteries.
This is a ritual battle that is held once a year. The main purpose of this ritual is to draw blood. Blood is seen as the ultimate sacrifice to Lord Indra, the god of war. The gladiators only wear a long cloth around their waist and a headgear. They use a shield and a weapon made from sharp Pandan leaves to make cuts on the opponent during combat. According to the rules, they should not strike each other above the neck and from the waist down. These gladiators fight is a holy ritual and based on love, so it is not a form of brutal violence. Therefore, the fight has no winner or loser. This gladiatorial battle used to be held as a sacred ritual in honour of Lord Indra. Today this ritual battle is open for children and adults from outside the village. Furthermore, it is a large event that attracts many spectators, both outsiders as the entire village. For villagers, this is an annual party with food, music, and wine.
The Bali Aga people believe that Gerinsing has sacred and magical properties, including keeping impure and danger out of the village. Ancient heirlooms of ancestors made from Gerinsing are therefore used to encase important family statues or altars. For the fabrication of this fabric, a professional weaving technique is used: double Ikat. This is a very complicated technique and it can take months to master. This is why the Gerinsing fabric is exclusive and expensive and a good source of income from outsiders for today’s inhabitants who, unlike their ancestors, have some interaction with outsiders.
Private tours to this traditional village are arranged by travel agencies, where you can see the ancient and unique traditions of the Bali Aga people and learn more about their culture. A visit to this island is certainly described by many visitors as a unique experience.