Economy & Water (Giambelli, 1995)

Below article consists of two parts of Rodolfo A. Giambelli's PhD thesis (1995, Chapter 1, see source below): the various aspects of Nusa Penida economy and the importance of water.


Economic activities in recent years have undergone substantial improvement; nonetheless, significant differences are still present within the small archipelago.

Lembongan, the northern and eastern coastal belt of Nusa Penida and to a lesser degree Ceningan are the more developed areas of Nusa. Due to the large farming of seaweed as the main cash crop, these areas have ventured forth into the market economy and in the recent years have taken advantage of a steady cash flow. Moreover, all the major coconut groves as well as fishing and tourist facilities are located in these areas. The remaining larger section of Nusa Penida (the centre and the south of the island) is less integrated in the market economy and is largely dependent on subsistence activities for farmers still grow their main staple foods. On the whole the majority of the population of this island consists of farmers and their working activity is centred on land cultivation and animal breeding.

giambelli 1995 reciprocating landscape photo1Image left: Landscape of Nusa Penida at Batuguling (Giambelli, 1991)

Farming production appears to have undergone significant changes for in 1930 rice still represented in percentage terms an important item in the production and consumption of the local population. Data I have processed from Soekardjo (1931:32-3) indicate that Nusa Penida in 1930 produced about 40 tons of dry rice (padi gaga) and 42 tons of maize. (24) While rice still retains its central importance and role in religious rituals, maize is now the main cereal produced and some of the religious rituals formerly the prerogative of the rice cycle have been adopted to suit the needs of maize growing. The 1989 data show a marked shift in favour of maize production for in that year the output was of 6,163 tons of maize against 532.14 tons of padi gaga. Considering the relationship between the 1930 and 1989 outputs, while the maize production increased 146,7 times, the rice production increased only 13,3 times. Currently, most farmers grow as main cereal only maize and have abandoned the production of dry rice. They maintain that the change in the type of production was forced upon them by a steady decrease in rainfall that made the cultivation of padi gaga impossible in most areas of Nusa Penida. Other relevant agricultural products in 1989 were: cassava (44,254 tons), peanuts (374.33 tons), soya bean (26.46 tons) and mung bean (177.32 tons). (25)

Footnotes 25) The data have been elaborated from Soekardjo's tables. (1931·32-33). This writer originally expresses the amount of rice and maize production in pikul units. A pikul is a former Indonesian unit of weight. The equivalent Balinese term is tikul. Literally translated a pikul means a load a man can carry. According to Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia one pikul is equivalent to 62.5 kg. I have converted pikul figures into kg. and ton so as to allow a possible comparison; 25) Statistical source: 'Statistik Kecamatan Nusa Penida 1989. Kantor Statistik Kabupaten Klungkung'. I should say that there are some discrepancies between the data given by this volume and the same details presented by another statistical publication: Klungkung Dalam Angka 1989. This latter report inexplicably appears to overestimate the productive output of the island. In doubt I have decided to adopt the more conservative data of the Statistik Kecamatan Nusa Penida 1989.

An important part of the local economy is focused on the produce of Bali cattle (bantengs) and pigs that are exported to Bali for cash. The husbandry of banteng, which are also used for ploughing, has recently been implemented by the relevant government agencies. The prominent use of the pig as a sacrificial offering has also fostered breeding practices at a domestic level in order to meet ritual requirements. This in turn has made available surplus animals for sale to Bali for cash. The practice is so diffused that a few farmers are now embarking on a purely commercial type of breeding. Unfortunately, this has not become widespread because a lack of funds and capital; however the attempt is an indication of the potential types transformation that the area may undergo in the future. The 1989 production of cattle and pigs reported these data: banteng 20,074 units, pigs 10,587 units. The area has also a significant production of live chickens that are to satisfy local consumption as well as religious and gambling needs and that are also regularly marketed for petty cash.

Other relevant cash crops are: coconut, cashew nut, mangoes and seaweed. The 1989 production of coconut in the whole kecamatan was estimated to have reached 48,521 tons. Coconuts have a large variety of uses that range from food to domestic implements to the production copra. Domestically produced coconut oil and copra are the by-products of this crop that are sold on Bali cash. Since 1978/79 in a program destined to improve local living access to cash the Indonesian government has provided farmers with cashew nuts (jambu mete, Anacardium occidentale) seeds, funds and trees. The yield has increased steadily in the recent years and the product is both sold on the local market and sent to Java. The 1989 produce was of 2,170 tons. Nusa Penida is also a very large grower of mangoes (poh) and of one of the best mangos eaten in Bali is the poh Nusa. This produce, for which no data are available, is consumed locally and exported to Bali for cash.

giambelli 1995 reciprocating 00Image right: Dry landscape and terracing in Nusa Penida at Jurangpait (Giambelli, 1990)

Substantial success in the economy of the coastal areas of Nusa Penida has been achieved by the introduction of seaweed farming. This has greatly contributed to differentiating the local economy, providing a high revenue cash crop for export. Seaweed farming has had a positive effect on the whole island for it has mobilised the redundant labour force from the interior of Nusa Penida to its coastal area. A significant number of people have migrated to the coast attracted by the cash provided by seaweed farming. Some of the ritual practices that were traditionally linked to land agriculture have been adjusted to incorporate seaweed farming for according to local perception both activities ought to be considered (p.18) similar in nature. Unfortunately, seaweed market prices have recently been subject to fluctuation thereby threatening the profits of the local farmers and the scope of the whole project.

Seaweed (bulung, rumput laut) farming was first introduced in the area of Nusa Penida in the 1979/80 but the practice was not fully adopted until the 1985. The production areas are located on the islands of Lembongan, Ceningan and along the north and east coasts of Nusa Penida. The seaweed end product according to the 1989 statistical data amounted to 74,452 tons. (26)

Footnote 26) The types of seaweed grown in the area are the brown Spenusum and the dark green Cotonii. For a study of the effects of seaweed farming on the local economy and an analysis of the production in relation to the work force and its composition see: Setiawina (1990) and Sanica (Sanica et Altri 1988, 1989).

Of some relevance too is fishing. Catches are both consumed locally and, once cooked exported to Bali. The 1989 statistic reports the capture of 1,409 kg. of tuna fish.

Last, but not least, of growing importance is the tourist industry. Small hotels and bungalows are today almost exclusively located in Jungutbatu on the island of Lembongan for this island has attracted a steady number of tourists since early 1980 due to its surfing facilities. However, recently a number of projects have been presented with the purpose of drawing Nusa Penida itself within the larger Bali tourist circuit.

On the whole the economic infrastructures and services of the area are still basic. The entire group of islands (Nusa Penida, Lembongan and Ceningan) has only two markets; the main one located in Sampalan and a minor one in Toyapakeh. Markets in these two villages take place every day; however activity increases every three days during pasah, the Balinese day designated for proper market activities. If anything is needed, people throughout Nusa converge on Sampalan or Toyapakeh for shopping.

Money is used as the main medium of transaction but in some areas of Nusa Penida barter may still be practised especially if there is a crop surplus. Maize, coconut, peanuts or fish are all items that can be exchanged. Formerly it was common for people from Jungutbatu who ventured to Sakti to exchange salt or fish for maize.

giambelli 1995 21 water

Water sources and water storage - The importance of water in Nusa Penida

The island has been famous for its recurrent episodes of drought and famine since the Dutch conquest of Bali. The visit that Korn (1944:97) undertook to the island in 1929 was indeed induced by anxieties about the effects of these factors on the local population. Gertis (1925:107) remarks how in 1924 due to polluted water in Lembongan about 30 people died and how, most probably because the use of unclean water, the women of Ped suffered infertility for a considerable period of time. The case was so severe that the village had to be abandoned.

The extreme shortage of drinkable water appears to be the environmental determinant that has influenced and still influences the economy and life of this island. The dry conditions, the type of flora and fauna and the closeness of this island to the Wallace line (29) seem to make the ecological environment of Nusa Penida closer to the eastern Indonesian archipelago rather than to the Balinese ecological niche.

Footnote 29) The Wallace line passes between Bali and Lombok, and is supposed to defines the limit of an ecological band that runs from Lombok to the Kai islands in eastern Indonesia. According to Wallace this ideal line should indicate and demarcate a striking variation between the ecosystem of the western island and the ecosystem of the eastern islands of the Indonesian archipelago. (see: Wallace: 1962) The concept has been subsequently challenged by other scholars who suggested that the demarcating line appears to be to the east of Lombok.

If saying that water is one of the key elements which makes life possible in the island is a mere truism, accounting for how water shortages affect the life of the locals and describing what strategies they have developed to face this periodical deficiency provides a better understanding of the way of life of the people of Nusa Penida and the way they relate to their environment. (30)

Footnote 30) It is very difficult for me to convey to readers the importance of the water factor in a dry environment, especially since western readers - I assume - have their water sources a few meters away from the place where they sit and this source is perceived to be virtually unlimited. It would be a completely different matter if they had to walk between one and three hours to reach a well and then carry on their shoulders or heads a bucket or two full of water of a weight between twenty and thirty kilograms. The crucial difference is that westerners tend to take water availability for granted, it belongs to an unquestioned domain, while for the locals in Nusa Penida this is not granted and it belongs to a questionable domain.

cubang-tuladImage left: water catchment cystern at Tulad (orgigin & date image unknown)

Water is such an important item that in periods of shortage it becomes a commodity. It is bought and sold by those in need of it and it may be given away as payment for a job done or in order to strengthen allegiances and foster patron­client relationships. Because of the chronic water scarcity and the priority to save it when it is available, in some places of Nusa Penida people still bathe using only as much water as can be filled in a coconut shell. The shell, called janggi [NP] has a small hole on its bottom from which the water, regulated by a wooden needle, flows.

A complete and detailed study of the water table in the whole of Nusa Penida - to the best of my present knowledge - is still unavailable. A short report on this subject (Geological: 1980) has dealt only with the northern areas of the island.

The main water sources appear to be basically three: rainwater collected in underground tanks (cubang [NP]) or open air reservoirs (dam and gumbleng), wells (sémér) and springs (yéh anakan), anceng [NP]). According to the 1990 statistical data concerning the use and source of water in Nusa Penida, of the whole population (46,843) the great majority 75.69 % (34,730) utilised rainwater accumulated in underground tanks, 21.97% (10,080) used water from a well and only 2.34 % (1,073) of the people were connected to a running water pipeline. Essentially, in the northern coastal areas water is drawn from wells, in the southern coastal collected from cliff springs, and in all inland areas of Nusa Penida underground tanks are used. (For a visualisation of the distribution see plate N.6)


The large majority of the inhabitants of the island use for domestic consumption water that is stored in an underground tank locally called cubang.

This is a large cylinder carved in the underground limestone and may be as much as five meters deep and four meters large. The internal walls of the cubang are rendered impermeable to filtration and leakage through the plastering of cement and lime. In its upper part the cubang is provided with a small outlet from where water can be obtained with the help of a bucket.

A cubang stores rainwater that is channelled to it through a system of gutters placed on building roofs and pipes. Formerly roofs were made in traditional Balinese style with Imperata grass and gutters and pipes were made from bamboo. These traditional materials now tend to be used only by less affluent families, the majority using tiles and plastic or metal piping. The making of a cubang is a lengthy work that may take between one and three months. The work is generally done by a collective group (matulung, gotong royong in Indonesian). Each family, at least in the northern areas of Nusa Penida, tends to have at least one cubang inside the house compound. Formerly, in Sakti, those who could not afford to build a cubang used to make an open square water reservoir within the compound. The water accumulated in this way was subject to frequent contamination by domestic animals and was one of the primary sources of disease. In 1985 in the midst of a particularly dry season and with the prospect of a severe drought the Indonesian government financed the construction of 180 above-ground water catchments. These are locally called bak bangpres (from bangunan president) and have been built throughout the island. Some are still in good condition but the majority of them show signs of deterioration generally due to poor maintenance. More recently the local government in conjunction with a program of cattle implementation has begun a campaign to stimulate the building of cubang in the orchards and gardens so as to support cattle breeding.

cubang-nusa penida

Image above: Cubang with family around Waru, Limo Kelod (Godi Dijkman, 2007)

Because of the length of the dry season water stored in cubang tends generally to be consumed before the arrival of the wet monsoon. In such cases, which are frequent, those who are left without water are forced to buy from those who have larger storage, or more commonly to walk to the nearest well or descend to closest spring (anceng) to fetch it. During periods of shortages the water obtained in this way is strictly for drinking and cooking consumption. Personal toilet and laundry are done where wells or springs are located. In Sakti at the end of the dry season on given days it was a common scene to see a line of people, young and old as well, walk down in the early morning to Penida to wash clothes and bathe. In former periods only wealthy families had a cubang and the walk to and from the well was part of the everyday life of these farmers. Children too were supposed to help and girls were trained from early adolescence to carry and balance water buckets on their heads.


Relatively easily available underground water throughout the island is present only in the north and northeast of Nusa Penida, on the narrow coastal belt that runs from Toyapakeh to Suana where, because of the alluvial type of soil, water is sufficiently close to the surface. In this area wells (sémér) are quite widespread, though because of the proximity to the sea most of the water available is salty or brackish. (31) A similar situation is present in the area of Jungutbatu, on the island of Lembongan. In all these areas water, though containing a variable level of salt, is largely present throughout the year. There are, however, a few fresh water wells in the short alluvial valleys leading to the sea, notably in Penida, Gamat, Tanjung Atuh and Kutampi. The northern coastal area that spans Kutampi and Sampalan, Batunuggul, where the government offices and the largest market of the island are located is the only part of Nusa Penida where running water is available. The area is served by a large well in Kutampi.

Footnote 31) The village of Toyapakeh derives its name from its association with a local well for in Balinese toya means 'water' and pakeh 'salty'.

In conjunction with projects for tourist development the well of Penida is now in the course of being tapped and channelled up to Sakti, Sebonibus and down to Toyapakeh from where the water will be distributed to the north eastern areas of the island. All the water obtained through these wells is sufficiently clear but needs to be treated (boiled) before drinking.

Anceng, Yeh Anakan

giambelli 1995 reciprocating anceng 24Image left: Climbing down the anceng Eha toward the spring set at the bottom of the cliff, Antapan (Giambelli, 1991)

The island's south coast is defined by a line of cliffs ranging between 100 and 200 m.a.s.l. and all the natural sources of drinkable fresh water in the south of Nusa Penida are found in springs flowing directly from the vertical sea cliffs or at their base. In almost all of them, the water runs from the rocks a few meters above the sea level. For all the villages close enough to the coast these springs represent the main source of water. They are well known and have been regularly used by the local inhabitants who during the dry season, once the cubang water is finished, climb down the cliffs in order to obtain their water provisions. These types of springs are locally called anceng. The term does not in itself indicate 'spring' but refers to the type of path that is made to reach the spring for anceng in Balinese means a short pole or stake.

Some of these springs (see plate N.6), such as that of Temeling, are easily accessible but for the majority of them the descending path has either been carved into the cliff's wall or artificially made by thrusting wooden stakes into the soft lime wall so as to create a descending route. This artificial sequence of ladders and trestle-bridges is buttressed below by other timber supports and on its external side has a railing that in some cases is mainly perfunctory.

I have descended the majority of these anceng and though all of them are quite vertical some are better made and protected than others. Particularly hazardous and precarious is the anceng in Sekartaji. Formerly the descending paths were even more precarious than they are today and accidents were not uncommon. (32) Both Gertis (1925:106) and Korn (1944:100-105) mention that because of the dangers connected with this activity only water bearer groups ('sekehe toja') used to be in charge of the water collection. When collecting water women are expected to carry up, on their heads, a bucket of water weighing between 20-30 Kg, while men carry generally twice this weight in two buckets tied at the extremes of a pole balanced across one shoulder.

Footnote 32) See for example picture N.4 in Gertis (1925). The plate portrays a section of the anceng of Sekartaji one of the most precarious. Up to today the situation has only slightly improved.

The water from these springs is remarkably clean and immediately drinkable. It tends to be present all the year through but the flow is subject to seasonal variation for it depends largely on precipitation. Water levels are rather high during the rainy season and decrease gradually during the dry season.

Interestingly while wells are never religiously emphasised through their association with any sort of shrine, all anceng at their bottom are marked by the presence of small shrines (sanggah) or even a small temple complex dedicated to the local divinity. Residents who climb up and down these anceng say that if proper offerings are not made to the tutelary spirit of the well and the cliff their lives may be endangered for stones may fall on the path.

giambelli 1995 reciprocating altar 25 01

Image right: The shrines at the spring at the bottom of anceng Eha, Antapan (Giambelli, 1991)

Dam and Gumbleng

Other minor water sources are a couple of reservoirs that resemble a dam built by the Dutch at the beginning of this century in the area of Tulad and Tanglad and a recent one in Senangka built by the local population with the financial help of the Indonesian Government. The Dutch dams were built to provide the population of the central hills of Nusa with a water source during the dry season. Locally called dam these structures are basically open reservoirs that accumulate rain during the wet season.

Additionally, throughout the interior of the island small ground depressions are also used as temporary water reservoirs during the wet season. The rain running down from the hill slopes collects naturally in these ground depressions where it forms small ponds. These ponds, called gumbleng, are used to water cattle and they last as long there is rain supply. (33) When the water from gumbleng or cubang dries up the animals, mainly bantengs, are taken every two or three days to the nearest well where they are allowed to drink as much as they can. Throughout desa Sakti the well where animals are usually taken, even from the more distant banjar, is in the area of Penida.

Footnote 33) On cubang and gumbleng see also Gertis


  • Giambelli, Rodolfo A. - Reciprocating with Ibu Pretiwi. Social organisations and the importance of plants, land and the ancestors in Nusa Penida, Department of Anthropology Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies The Australian National University. Canberra 1995, p.16-18 (Economy), p.19-24 (Water)

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