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Shaded gods

Local high school students make umbrella centres or 'tungka's to earn pocket money. Photo: J.B. Djwan/Jakarta Post

Publication Date : 31-03-2013


Bali is home to a number of craftsmen who create distinctive umbrellas for Hindu rituals, a calling passed down through generations


At the head of broken steps off a narrow alley, 55-year-old Ibu Jero Sekar squats over a drill. By her side are piles of cut and split bamboo ready to be drilled.

Working speedily, Jero completes pile after pile of bamboo before moving onto her next task, splitting 50-centimetre strips that will soon be joined to the blocks. Further along her verandah, three 13-year-old boys fit the drilled and split bamboo together, lashing it with decorative threads in this, the first step in tedung (umbrella) making for the Gods, here in Klungkung, Bali.

Known as tungka, Jero and her tiny team make around 60 of these umbrella centres daily to be sold to the umbrella makers at the end of her street.

“I learned to make these with my friends. We have to make a huge number of these tungka for Galungan and Kuningan (Hindu holy days). The kids come here after school to work with me. They work year round for the extra money for school, but Galungan is the busiest time for us,” says Jero, barely lifting her eyes from the drill.

It is clear Jero barely makes ends meet, despite her never-ending tungka preparations. She is small and bent, her two-room home mostly given over to her bamboo-littered workshop. Galungan umbrella sales are a small fillip to this woman with a jump in orders for the tungka that fetch just US$0.35 apiece.

Around the corner on Klungkung’s high street, 41-year-old Oka Agung is running a brisk trade in the ornaments needed for Hindu festivals.

A self-taught umbrella maker, Oka explains the brightly coloured long-stemmed umbrellas in Shiva’s whites and yellows, Brahma’s reds and Vishnu’s black are needed to shade the gods from the hot sun or keep off the rain. Gods, just like people, need protection from the elements, Oka says.

“I have had this business since 2005. I taught myself to make umbrellas by watching my family make them when I was small. My family always made umbrellas, our ancestors made them so I saw my mum and dad making umbrellas and I watched and watched so now I can also make them,” says Oka.

Proud of his skill, Oka says he likes to add decoration to his umbrellas; bits of gold-embossed fabric inset into umbrella panels, golden foil flowers and pompoms hang from the umbrella skirts and cut work aluminum decorates the umbrella poles.

“Umbrellas are needed in our ceremonies and they can only be red, yellow, white and black, but I like to add more decoration than normal to make my umbrellas more beautiful and special,” says Oka during a brief respite from sales.

He, along with his team, has been preparing umbrellas during the weeks leading up to Galungan, the busiest time of the year.

“An umbrella can take a week to make. Inside are all these bamboo spokes and the threading of a very good tungka alone can take three days,” says Oka, displaying the complex webbing in yellow and white thread in his umbrellas.

The umbrella business has also been good to Ibu I Gusti Endang Ayu, who has a shop a few doors down from Oka.

“I have been making and selling umbrellas for the past 12 years. Before that I was at home. I started the business with my husband, but he died in 2005 so I run it on my own now,” says Ayu, who learned the art of umbrella making from friends.

At the back of her shop, Ayu has a mini umbrella factory made up of a sewing machine, stacks of poles and the tungka she buys from Ibu Jero. Setting partially completed umbrellas on stands, Ayu spins the umbrella to check her decorative work before fitting the almost 2-metre poles to finish the umbrellas are then lined up in front of her shop.

“Prices range from about $3.50 for a small umbrella up to $12 for a large one, so it depends on what the customer wants and can afford. Making umbrellas has been a good business for me. Galungan this year is very good, sometimes it is not so good, but that is life,” says Ayu, adding that umbrellas for the gods are always needed.

“We use them not just for Galungan and Kuningan, but for many of our other religious rituals. Also, these days a lot of tourists like to buy the umbrellas as souvenirs and restaurants and villas have them as decoration,” says Ayu.


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