Battling the Other Side of Tourism: Commercialism

Old woman
A humble old Sasak woman selling her wooden necklace

A once very traditional and self-supported community, Sasak people today strive against the impact of tourism: commercialism.

A mix of Islam, Hindu and animism infused colorful rituals and rich traditions to the agricultural Sasak. Most of these are still present until today, while others are – sadly –, if not extinct, mostly for tourists.

Among the few Sasak villages, Sade – south of Praya – is probably the most accessible and gets visited by tourists who would expect to look at the daily life of this tribe. So don’t be fooled by the signboard at the front gate: Sade is a real village, one with genuine inhabitants making their life.

Women play their hands – and feet – on the entwined threads in their ikat weaving machine. Children jiggle small sticks to their wooden toad and lizard, making playful sounds. During siesta-hours, old men would gather under the thatched straw roof of the village’s bale banjar (gathering hall), discussing communal issues.

Sade is one of traditional villages in Lombok showcasing daily life of Sasak tribe. There is no ticket to enter the village; inhabitants would obviously benefit from the tourists by selling their ikats and crafts. In addition, young people with sufficient English skills would informally accept tips as guide.

During my quick visit last year, no villagers wore their ikats. Instead, these intricately-woven fabrics were laid on display table, sold to tourists. When I took pictures of little girls selling their ikats, two women approached me with a big smile on her face and urged me to buy her ikats after I took the pictures.

I was bewildered. While the whole tourism-economy does not sound like a bad idea, I could not help to think that the Sasak in Sade gets closer and more dependent to the tourists’ money, slowly leaving their farmland as the main source of living and commercializing their beautiful ikat instead of keeping it as tradition.

One can mistakenly thinking that the idea of making Sade – and other traditional villages – as tourist village seems to be a seamless answer to the village’s incapacity to support itself by making quick cash from the tourists. Most tourists are coming to peek at, learn from and get impressed by the locals’ daily life. When this happened, buying mementos from the locals – such as these beautiful ikats – would be a privilege instead of necessity.

I would give my two thumbs on making Sade accessible to the world. However, local government and village’s leaders need to build a sense of self-sufficiency amongst the village’s people in order to keeping Sade relatively resistant to the commercialization brought by the tourism and help to keep this tribe indigenous and traditional: two things of what tourists are craving for.

To reach Sade:

By public: take bemo to Praya from Mandalika terminal in Mataram. From Praya, take bemo to Sengkol and continue with anything available to Sade (infrequent).

By shuttle: take Perama shuttle to Kuta and request to be dropped at Sade. It is wise to agree on a pick up by the same service.

By car: take the road to Kediri then to Puyung. Avoid Praya as it is a hectic place, go south to Sukarara and turn left to Penujak. Drive southeast to Sengkol, passing Rembitan before reaching Sade.

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