Canangs are daily offerings for the spirits of Bali that express gratitude towards good Gods while warding off evil ones. You’ll come across these curious little hand-woven baskets made of banana leaves throughout the island. Their content includes an assortment of coloured flowers, rice and incense, but it’s not uncommon to find in them money, candy, biscuits and even cigarettes too. Every day new baskets with fresh flowers and gifts replace yesterday’s offerings.
Often, canangs are placed on sidewalks or at the entryways of homes, businesses and temples. You may even come across a canang or two on a fire hydrant, in a car and other seemingly random places, but their role in daily Bali life is far from random.
A Balinese family will prepare and place around fifteen canangs within or around their home each day. The number of canangs offered can more than double if it is a ceremonial day. Imagine all the time required to weave the little baskets!
If you go early enough to one of the local markets, you may find ladies selling ready-made canangs with the treats and flowers to place in them. While it’s a time-saving option for those with busier lifestyles, the canang-making process is actually a major part of the ritual too and the majority of the island’s inhabitants still prefer to make their own each day.
I was immediately fascinated and charmed by canangs. Wherever we went, we were greeted by their colourful presence. At times, we found ourselves nearly stepping on one of them before jumping to the side. We later found out that while out of respect, you should tread carefully around canangs and avoid stepping on them, they loose their religious value after the offering has been made at the start of the day. Point of this: it’s better to not step on them but in case you do on accident, you haven’t totally offended the island’s gods (hopefully).
While we were in Bali, I tried to ask a few locals if they could teach me how to make them so that I could take the tradition back home with me but I felt they weren’t completely comfortable with the request (so I didn’t push). It’s a sacred ritual after all and I’m sure they prefer to keep it that way rather than have it become a touristic attraction.
There are classes you can take though in Ubud if you are interested to learn more about how to make the baskets. Classes are offered at a few local studios and at select guesthouses. WS Art Studio is one such option that offer other interesting classes too, like traditional mask-making and batik painting.
The only book we could find on canangs while there was “My Offering” by Phillippa Goldie, a traveler from the UK who spent nine years of her life in Bali. The lightweight book includes an introduction into the religious symbolism behind canangs and beautiful photographs of their different types from across the island. You can find it at various bookstores for Rp 250,000 (10% of which is donated to local Balinese charities).