I first discovered NOVICA a few months ago while researching for an article I wrote for CNN. A partnership with National Geographic, NOVICA is a online shopping portal that connects buyers with artists all around the world. The basic philosophy is that you don’t need to purchase fake souvenir items and haul them back in your luggage when you travel. Instead, go to the website and order genuine handmade pieces directly from the creator and get them delivered right to your door. This provide artists another outlet to market their products at non binding, fair trade prices.
When I was in Bali for Go Eat Give’s Yoga Retreat this September, NOVICA’s local staff offered to meet our group for dinner and invited one of their local artists to join. We met at Baleudang, a beautiful restaurant near Ubud, that has floating dining huts known as bale. We sat on mats with our legs dangling over the large pond of coy fish, as the evening breeze lingered around us.
At the head of the table was an elderly man dressed in traditional Balinese attire of a sarong, shirt and head tie. He had a big toothless smile beaming from under his grey mustache. We exchanged pleasantries through a translator, as he didn’t speak any English.
The bamboo flute has special characteristics that have been commonly used by Balinese musicians to express artistic feelings through melodious flute music. Its sound is soft but sharp, that touches our ear and heart. In olden times, most Balinese men played flutes as a way of attracting women. The Balinese named this flute suling, or seruling. Lentong picks up a dozen of so flutes in all sizes and lays them on the table in front of me. He hands me one and raises another one to his lips, gesturing me to follow his league. We begin to move our fingers and blow into the flute. While Lentong’s flute produces a gentle melodious sound, mine makes what sounds like intermittent blow horn noises. I can barely manage to keep up with Lentong’s stamina, as I gasp for frequent breaths of air. It is amazing to see how at 95, he can manage to play the flute beautifully for long periods of time.
Our dinner arrives. A large variety of plates including honey grilled prawns, deep fried carp, corn fritters, sautéed bean sprouts, water spinach, sambal, fried tofu, rice and much more. As we dig in, Lentong is the first one to notice that I am unable to open my water bottle and immediately asks the person sitting next to him to help me. At his age, he is more alert than a hawk.
We continue to discuss his flutes with the help of a translator. He points me to the carvings he has made by hand, depicting Balinese symbols, such as geckos, snakes and goddesses. At first, they looks like drawings made with a black pencil, but on closer look you can see that he has actually carved each design with a sharp knife and then added burnt coconut ash to give it the black coloring. The designs are so intricate, they require perfect vision and a stable hand, both of which Lentong is blessed with. Unfortunately, he is the only one on the island who knows this art and his children took no interest in learning it. After him, there won’t be anyone left to carry on this legendary craft.
It takes Lentong about two weeks to make each flute. He sells about half of them in local stores, and the other half online through NOVICA’s website. I couldn’t help but get one of his flutes, not only for their artistic beauty, but for the inspiration Lentong gave me. He is living his passion, creating what he loves, and age is not going to stop him.
Lentong signs his work as “Pan Nasib, Sangeh,” as he is known in his village. Pan means father of and Nasib is the name of his son. Sangeh is the name of the village where he lives.
Photo credit Rudy Adyana.