If you’ve never heard about this wonderful pottery village, that’s because it’s not as advertised as, say, the world-famous Banyumulek or Sembalun. I’m not saying that those villages have nothing on this one. It’s just that for a tourist who wants to dig really deep and have an overwhelming experience in Lombok, Penujak Pottery Village is the place to start.
The thing is – it’s the oldest pottery center on the island and has been a source of stability and cultural heritage. Later, when pottery became not only a means of survival but also a great business, the local craftsmen traveled to the neighboring villages to share their knowledge.
It’s safe to say that for the locals, pottery is life, and they make sure the younger generations respect and value all those treats that it brings. This craft is a huge part of who they are, a vital part of their identity, and you’ll get to witness that once you visit Penujak alone or with a group of friends/relatives.
I had the privilege of talking to some well-respected pottery craftsmen, and they told me that according to the Indonesian legends, the pottery traditions on this island started from a very basic kettle. Their ancestors used it for the sacred Adat Urip “life” ceremony, and the Adat Pati “death” ceremony.
The Traditions And Customs Of Penujak Pottery Village
After a child is born, they put the placenta into a kettle and keep it there. In the regular, day-by-day life, the kettle is used to cook, to boil water, and for other stuff. And when death comes knocking on the door, the people of Lombok use the kettle to clean up the corpses.
The elders keep reminding this custom to their children so that they remember how to be humble and appreciate the gifts of life. One day, we will all go back to the ground, and the kettle will help us leave this world in peace. It’s true when they say the Asian people have a stronger connection with their ancestors than the folks in Europe!
An interesting fact: currently, up to 70% of Lombok’s population is making pottery items, and they can be found in seven tiny villages all over the island. By the way, every single village has its own unique and favorite product. For example, Adong is very proud of its trademark clay pot, while Toro and Mantung can’t stop bragging about their fancy plates.
Folks over in Terandon are in love with their kettles and claim that they are one-of-a-kind. And finally, Telage is probably the most important village, as the masters there take care of finishing and decorating, which is, without a doubt, a key element in this craft.
Taking A Minute To Admire The Work Of The Masters
While in Penujak Pottery Village, you’ll be able to see almost every single step of the process, starting with forming all the way up to burning and finishing. You’ll realize that it takes a lot of hard work and years of experience to create these jugs, cups, kettles, and everything else in between.
Oh, and please remember that no machine is being used on this island, and every single item is unique and hand-made. Ok, so, what about the price-tags? Are they steep, or affordable? Well, it all depends on the complexity of the item and the time it takes to make it. The average price ranges from 5K IDR to 200K IDR.
Yes, IDR stands for Indonesian Rupees, and in dollars, that would be 0.36-14.5, which is more than fair. For the citizens of Penujak and Indonesia in general, that price-tag might be a bit too expensive for comfort, but for us, folks from the Western Civilization, a couple of dollars for a unique souvenir/decoration is more than acceptable.
You might’ve already heard that along with the more traditional shapes, the locals also make one very special jug/kettle that is nothing like you’ve ever seen. The unique thing about it is that you’re supposed to pour the water in from the bottom, and once you put down, the water doesn’t come out!
Purchasing A Souvenir In Penujak
If you’re just as amazed by this clever design as I am, make sure to visit the art shops in Penujak village. Or, if you’re all about getting up-close and personal, spend a bit more time and ask one of the craftsmen to make a thief jug for you (yep, that’s what it’s called).
The exact price may vary depending on the time of the year you visit, and it also depends on the master that you’re dealing with, but I’d say that with 30K IDR, which is 2.20 US dollars, you should be able to have a jug made exclusively for you. There’s nothing like watching a craftsman work on a special item that’s going to be yours at the end of the day.
I’d personally recommend picking a holiday to visit Lombok. As for the overall product quality, service, and the attitude of the locals, Penujak Pottery Village will surprise you in a good way. These masters have been proving their worth for decades. According to international commissions, the soil on the island is exceptional and the pottery items will serve you for many years.
Furthermore, the pots/jugs/other products from Penujak are thicker, and that means they look stronger and more “expensive”. The craftsmen of this village don’t mix clay with water but rather pound it before putting together with sand (and, naturally, water).
A Tiny Course Of History
Crafting (or as the locals call it, gerabah) on this fine island dates back to the early sixteenth century. Now, this could come as a total surprise to you, but the majority of potters over there are women and the tradition of mothers teaching their daughters how to craft has been around for ages.
In Lombok, it’s known as turun temurun and the learning process starts at a pretty early age so that the young ladies can take over soon. Believe me: you’ll be amazed by the skillset on these craftswomen. They are the stars of Penujak Pottery Village and handle the materials even better than the fellas, which definitely deserves our respect.
As I mentioned earlier, all the materials come from the rich surroundings, and the potters are free to focus on their work instead of spending time and money on getting just the right “ingredients” for their product. You might’ve seen the so-called pottery wheels at work somewhere else, but rest assured that they’re not being used here.
The women in Penujak work around the pots in a circle. That’s how it’s always been around here. Another distinctive feature of the local pots: they come with all kinds of carvings that make them stand out among the oh-so-similar items found elsewhere.
How To Find Penujak Pottery Village
This picturesque village is about 35 kilometers away from the center of Mataram (it’s a pretty big city). If you’ve just landed at the Lombok International Airport, then you’re just 2 kilometers away. If you’re planning on renting a car, keep in mind that the ride from Mataram to the Penujak village will take about 50 minutes.
Drive to the east till you reach the three junctions of Sengkol. Turn right once you reach them. The road from there is approximately 15 kilometers long. That’s pretty much it. If you chose public transportation, the driver will take care of everything. Just don’t forget to leave when you reach the destination J.
If you’re not sure where that is, ask the locals – they will know how to get there, that’s for sure. The only problem – almost no citizen of Lombok speaks English. They won’t even be able to put two words together and/or understand what you’re saying.
Only the younger folks might know English, and that is your only salvation here. True, a guide is the first thing that comes to mind, but not all of us want another person to accompany us on this trip. For some tourists, visiting a different country and/or culture is a very intimate experience, and they have no desire of sharing that with anyone else.
Penujak, along with a couple of other villages in Lombok, is currently flourishing thanks to tourism and investments from other countries. For example, the New Zealand grants allow the island to not only support the continuation of traditional pottery techniques but also help the government officials to improve the lives of the regular men and women. So, don’t miss your chance to check it all out!