Breaking Down Walls Through Building Them

By John Ellis
Contributor | The Bali Times
MAMBAL ~ For centuries the Balinese have constructed walls made of a combined natural mixture of sand, soil, paddy husks and water. The resulting mud walls are extremely durable, entirely natural and rustically attractive. Yet in modern times the construction of these organic walls – bound in tradition and closely linked with Bali’s agricultural past – have been quietly usurped by a creeping modernity that threatens this island with a grim future of concrete and steel.

A tour through the island’s rural communities will find many of these walls standing in disrepair. Modernity is equated with a highly fixed idea of what modern should look like – and in that, a centuries-old building practice that combines creative Balinese ingenuity with environmentally sound materials is being lost.

The Bali First Women’s Mud Wall Building Cooperative, a budding venture based here in the sleepy inland farming community of Mambal, near Ubud, promises to reformat our views of what 21st-century Bali should look like. It’s a venture designed with joint social and environmental aims, and its goals are to inspire a return to traditional and eco-friendly Balinese craftsmanship while promoting rural development and providing jobs, trainings and much-needed economic opportunity for marginalized rural women.

The cooperative says it will do this by employing 200 women from the greater Mambal area and providing them will the necessary skills and training to construct the walls. The cooperative will be owned entirely by the women, it says, and will pay competitive daily wages, offer transport costs, subsidize children’s school fees, and allow its employees time off for familial and religious obligations.

“Balinese women living in rural communities are very infrequently paid for their work. They are also the primary caregivers in Balinese households, and they must work very hard,” says Ni Putu Purbayanthi, an industrial engineer involved in the project.

In providing these women with employment opportunities and the chance to generate income for their families and communities, the project will not only be about promoting an attractive, strong, environmentally friendly product, says the cooperative; it will also provide a practical solution to micro-level economic problems that have plagued many Balinese families since the loss of jobs in the tourism industry.

Building a mud wall, as pictured in the photograph accompanying this article, is a simple though labor-intensive process. A stone foundation is built a half meter below and above ground. Standard dimensions are around 0.35m wide by 2.5m tall by desired length, and walls can stand over both flat and sloping landscapes. The walls are also roofed to protect from rain and sun. A number of choices are available for roofing materials, including traditional alang-alang grass and ceramic tiles. Walls can take several colors depending on the type of soils used, and can also be made smooth and finished or left rough and natural-looking.

“We are ready to work,” declared Men Sanggeh one warm morning, as three of h

“These walls are a part of Bali’s heritage. It would be a shame if this knowledge were lost.”

To date, the cooperative has received a total of 165 linear meters of wall orders. It is anticipated that total volume in this first year of the project will be around 300 linear meters. Growth of 80-50 percent, respectively, is anticipated for the second and third years of the project. And because this is a unique business in Bali – literally no one is currently constructing traditional mud walls – the business is expected to fill a niche market with only indirect competition from other non-environmentally friendly materials.

For further information, including estimates, or to view a sample of The Bali First Women’s Mud Wall Cooperative’s product, contact Agatha Belinda at PT. Karya Tangan Indah:; +62 (0)361 469 888 ext 195).

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