While conventional communication is difficult enough, have you ever tried communicating without saying a word? While it may seem like an arduous feat, it is a daily practice for the people of Bengkala.
Bengkala is an extraordinary village known for having one of the highest deaf-since-birth ratios in the world. According to Bengkala’s traditional myth—A long time ago, the righteous people of Bengkala stood up against their corrupt King. They firmly set their own boundaries and refused to listen or respond to the King’s unreasonable demands. The evil King was infuriated and therefore cursed the village to forever be deaf and mute. The scientific explanation, on the contrary, is a lot less exciting – the culprit is a geographically-centric recessive gene, DFNB3 that causes deaf-muteness at birth.
Despite its unconventional demographics, Bengkala’s most striking feature is not its deafness but its sense of community. The villagers have created their own unique sign language in order to accommodate their deaf population, where ideas are conveyed using natural movements. This is known as “Kata Kolok”, which translates into “the talk of the deaf”. As a testament to the inclusivity of this community, “Kata Kolok” has been adopted by more than fifty percent of the non-deaf population and is commonly taught to the children as a second or third language. The “Koloks” are not ostracised or discriminated against, but instead accepted and integrated into the village.
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Kolok (deaf) people
Bengkala is famed as a home to an unusually large proportion of hearing and speech impaired people. While the typical likelihood of congenial deafness occurring at birth is 0.01%; about 2% of the population is deaf-mute within the 2,226 residents of Bengkala.
In recent years, there has been an increasing global awareness of Bengkala’s “Kolok” residents. Many researchers flock to Bengkala to study this unique phenomenon in hopes of pinpointing its exact origins. Michigan State University, in collaboration with Gajah Mada University and Udayna University, found that the genes of the “Koloks” differs from the norm, specifically the 17th chromosome that relates to hearing and speech disability.
Meanwhile, the Science journal published a complete report about the appearance of “Koloks”. According to the report, the phenomenon of “Kolok” was initially thought to be the manifestation of Penren's syndrome, which originated from a lack of iodine supply. However, based on the five-generation genealogy traced from various 13th-century Sanskrit documents, it is known that “Koloks” people originated from genetic mutations. However, it is still unclear when and who first experienced a gene mutation which was then inherited from generation to generation.
Bengkala’s inclusivity and community spirit is what makes it such a unique and intriguing place to visit. In Bengkala the deaf and hearing are schooled together and almost everyone knows the sign language.
Traditionally, Bengkala Villagers were weavers, however over time, this practice was abandoned. In 2014, weaving was revived in Bengkala, to provide a source of income for the “Kolok” people who face challenges seeking employment. The weaving process takes place in Kawasan Ekonomi Masyarakat (KEM) or the designated economic area, created by the village for “Kolok” people to sustain themselves. Amongst others, they also produce incense sticks or dupa, made from bamboo and the traditional turmeric herbal drink, Sakuntala.
Traditional weaving is painstakingly handmade over a period of 2 to 3 days with different themes such as seahorse, crystal and turmeric. Due to this, the intricate fabric and exquisite patterns are prized by local Balinese.
Tourist are more than welcome to take part in these activities to experience how the deaf community live. Tourist may also choose to purchase these products if they wish.
Sakuntala (Sari Kunyit Bengkala)
Sakuntala is typical herbal medicinal drink from Bengkala Village. Made from the turmeric extract of Bengkala Village, which is famed for its turmeric production, the taste of the drink is unique. The uniqueness of the taste makes it a must try if you stop by our village.
Janger Kolok (Dance)
Kolok residents serve as an inspiration to many with their dance known colloquially as Janger Kolok. Their astounding ability to move and dance not only in sync with each other but also with the beat of the music despite being hearing impaired are an inspiration to many. It is a testament that physical limitations can be overcome with sufficient willpower and determination. This has made the Janger Kolok renowned across the region, with Kolok residents even performing at the Bali Arts Festival.
Nature of Bengkala
Tourist may also bask in the tranquillity and serenity of the village. Bengkala is a relatively isolated community, untouched by the hustle and bustle of city life. Take a stroll in the fields or take a swim in the crystal-clear river located in the middle of the village and in the evening, experience the chime of nature.
Visit the village during festive occasions to soak in the atmosphere and experience the local culture and traditions first-hand.
During March, Bengkala will celebrate Nyepi or Silence Day, a multi-day event. On the day preceding Nyepi, villagers will first celebrate Ogoh Ogoh. A large procession will be held, culminating in the burning of large demon effigies to symbolise the cleansing of the soul. On Nyepi, villagers are to observe a strict set of rules. Interestingly, for locals, lights and stoves should not be turned on and pleasure-seeking activities and excursions are forbidden. This is done out of respect for the Earth. On the next day, there will be a large celebration, where villagers will visit friends and relatives to express their gratitude.
On the 22nd of July, it is Ulang Tahun Desa, the birthday of Bengkala Village. Join in the festive celebrations by participating in various mass games, or religious ceremonies at the temple.
Bookings for accommodation may be done through https://bengkala.social/booking. Do plan early and book as soon as possible as limited host houses are available.
Guided tours may be arranged at the village office for a fee.
Transport to and from the airport can be arranged. Do note that this transport service will be provided by a third-party, and additional costs might be incurred.
Transport within the village may be arranged at the village office.
Traditional Balinese food can also be found in Bengkala Village. For instance, Dodol, a sweet toffee confectionary treat is sure to satisfy those who have a sweet tooth and can be found in Bengkala. Blayag, a savoury rice cake topped with vegetables, peanuts and satay, brought together with a special sauce is something to look forward to. Bubur Ayam or chicken congee may also be found in Bengkala. This delectable congee is often consumed for breakfast and is a great way to start the day.