Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan are Bali's three "sister islands" situated in the deep, whirling straits separating Bali from Lombok. Nusa Ceningan, the smallest of the three, is little more than a tiny rock with a single village that snuggles cozily between the massive highlands of Penida to the east, and the coral beaches of Lembongan to the west. The three islands differ radically from the rest of Bali, consisting of barren limestone highlands covered by cacti and shrubs. Physically, they have much more in common with the southern Bukit Peninsula and the islands to the east of Bali.
An austere physical environment
Water is scarce, so the only crops grown here are maize, cassava, beans and tobacco. It is common in the small villages to see cacah strips of raw cassava drying in the sun before being steamed as a substitute staple for rice.
The islands are very sparsely populated. Nusa Penida (usually called Nusa) has 25 villages scattered along its shores and in the highlands. Access is difficult, as transport is not well-developed and roads in the highlands, winding and uneven, are just beginning to be paved. Everything comes by boat from Bali, including cattle, motorcycles and even bulldozers (which are knocked down, transported and re-assembled).
Houses, built with limestone blocks on the Balinese pattern in the lowlands, are more like Lombok's one-room huts on the plateau. They always include a family shrine (sanggah), as most inhabitants are Hindu Balinese. However, in the main town of Toya Pakeh, many people call themselves "Muslim Balinese" by which they mean a mixture of Malay, Sasak, Bugis, and Javanese migrants - settled here for generations. They have their own mosque, and Sasak cloth traders from nearby Lombok live semi permanently in this desa Islam.
Most highland farmers work in terraced dry fields and breed cattle. Cows are brought to market aboard jukung to be slaughtered in Denpasar. On the coast, people live by fishing, transporting passengers and goods to and from Bali, and, more recently, by culvating seaweed. The seaweed the large green kotoni and the smaller, red pinusun is exported to Hong Kong for use in the cosmetics industry. On shore, one finds co and cashew plantations.
Women help their husbands in the fields They used to spin cotton and weave cepuk (rough checkered cloths used- for life cycle ceremonies) on back strap looms, but this has almost disappeared over the last 15 years,
Daily life is hard. Rainwater is collected huge tanks for supply during the dry season and on the southern cliffs of Penida, a spectacular bamboo stairway has been constructed together water from natural springs just above the sea. Electricity is not yet available in the highlands, and education, job entertainment opportunities are scarce.
The cursed islands
All kinds of appalling myths have always been attached to Nusa Penida, due to its gloomy atmosphere and unrewarding conditions. Black magic is said to flourish here, and Balinese from the mainland are careful about what they say to Nusa people so as not to offend them. All evil Bali especially floods and diseases during the dry season - is said to come from Nusa, brought by the giant demon king, Jero Gede Mecaling. In the Badung and Gianyar regencies, the giant and his troops, who are said to cross the straits and land at Lebih, are met and expelled by means of exorcist sanghyang dedari trance dances.
Formerly, the islands were part of the Klungkung kingdom, which used Nusa as a place of banishment. There fore, most inhabitants are commoners and only a few bear the noble titles Dewa or Sri.
Visiting the islands
Nusa Penida is the ideal place to get off the beaten track, and to seek quietude and authenticity. The inhabitants here speak Balinese, with a local accent and vocabulary influenced by Sasak, but for them Bali is another world to which they go only from time to time. The form of ceremonies, such as weddings and cremations is similar to those in Bali, but in other ways these islands remind one of Lombok or Sumbawa.
In Nusa Penida, there is almost no tourism yet. It is wonderful to walk, ride on ojek two wheeled taxis, or drive through the villages in the highlands and along the shore to experience the island's rough beauty. It is also a rare experience to spend the night in a local home, as people are very friendly.
Several sights are worth visiting, such as karang Sari Cave, the spring at Sakti and sebuluh Waterfall near Batu Madeg. The most interesting temple is Ratu Gede kecaling's Pura Peed, 3 kin east of Toya Pakeh. In the smaller sanctuary here, a strange tree composed of three entangled ones grows, and from the trunk a stone mouth of Mecaling's minister protrudes. The temple odalan falls on Buda Cemeng Kelawu. Every three years on the fourth full moon (Purnama Kapat), a great festival (usaba) is also held, during which pilgrims from all over Bali come to pray at Pura Peed.
The Gandrung Dance, performed by two young boys clad in women's attire is still practiced in Plilit (Sekartaji) and Cemulik (Sakti) on Kajeng Kliwon, Purnama and Tilem according to the Balinese calendar. It is inspired by a dance of the same name in West Lombok. Baris Pati is performed in cemeteries at the time of cremations, in simpler costumes than on Bali. Baris Gede is danced at the odalan at Batu Ngulapan (Batu Nungul). Sanghyang Jaran exorcistic dances are held in times of crisis in Kutampi and Sakti.
Umbongan is a small island covered with coconut trees, mangrove forests,
small farms, and is surrounded by coral reefs. The island is split between
two villages, Jungut Batu and Lembongan. About 75 percent of its population
is involved with seaweed farming. The relaxed atmosphere on the island
is synchronized with the cycles of the tides. Villagers are seen planting,
replanting, and drying the seaweed. Much of this activity takes place
on the beach so it is difficult to find an isolated beach for sunbathing.
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