Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Barong Dance

Sunday morning we started our tour of Bali off by first viewing a traditional CV. Catur Eka Budhi in Kesiman, better known among westerners as The Barong & Kris Dance. This dance is divided into 5 acts like a play, each act telling a part of the story. This play/dance represents the eternal fight between good and evil. The mythological animal called the Barong represents a good spirit, and the Rangda represents an evil spirit. Throughout Bali one sees black and white checked fabric draped around statues and decorating buildings. This checked fabric is worn by many men, especially those working in or around various temples. The white color stands for good and black for evil. The Baliniese Hindu believe that both good and evil spirits exist and that like everything else in life, these spirits must be balanced. So they make offerings to both good and evil spirits daily. At special celebrations and festivals and certain ceremonies, offerings must be made to the evil spirits before commencing.

A gamelan (orchestra) plays that strange music over tone for quite some time before the actual dance begins. This music sounds like a tinkling, drumming jumble to our ears. The Barong dance is set-up on stage with the arrival of a tiger and a monkey. Then 3 masked male dancers appear, representing men working in a forest making palm wine. One of the men has a child that is killed by the tiger. The 3 men get angry and attack the tiger. The monkey helps the tiger in this fight, and during the fight one of the men has his nose bitten off. (I got lost on the significance of this entire part as none of these characters reappear during the remaining acts of the dance.) The Barong appears and dances around stage. The Barong sort of resembles a huge lion, with 2 men dancing around inside the hairy costume.

Act One: Two girl dancers appear, representing the servants of Rangda, the evil spirit. They are looking for the servants of Dewi Kunti who are on their way to meet their Paith (prime minister). (We had never noticed before that when the Balinese women dance they stick their butts way out. Probably for balance.) The costumes were quite colorful.

Act Two: Two servants of Dewi Kunti appear. A servant of the Rangda changes into a witch and enters both servants, causing them to become angry. The angry servants meet their Paith and all go together to Dewi Kunti.

Act Three: Dewi Kunti appears with her son Sadewa. Dewi Kunti has promised to sacrifice her son Sadewa. But a witch appears and enters Dewi Kunti before she makes the sacrifice. Dewi Kunti becomes angry and orders the Paith to bring Sadewa into the forest. The witch also enters the Paith so that the Paith will not have pity on Sadewa. Sadewa is taken into the forest and tied to a tree.
(Okay, we are following it up until now but still don’t see the significance of the first 3 men and the bitten-off nose.)

Act Four: God appears and gives Sadewa immortality, but Rangda the evil spirit does not know this. Rangda appears; ready to kill Sadewa and eat him; but Sadewa is still alive. Rangda then surrenders and asks Sadewa to redeem himself. Sadewa agrees and then kills Rangda, sending Randga into Heaven.

Act Five: One of the servants of Rangda is called Kalika. Kalika comes to Sadewa and asks him to redeem her also, as he had redeemed Rangda. Sadewa refuses. Kalika gets angry and changes herself into a boar and there is a great fight between Sadewa and the boar and lots of servants. The boar is defeated. Then Kalika changes herself into a bird, but is defeated again. Then Kalika changes herself into Rangda. Sadewa meditates and changes himself into a Barong. Still the Rangda seems to be too powerful. The fight seems to be unending. Then followers of Barong appear and help him fight the Rangda.

And at this point we got totally lost. The deal is that the Barong dancers when fighting Rangda pull out ceremonial daggers called kris and try to stab themselves to death. But the power of the good barong prevent the daggers from entering their skin, and they are unable to stab themselves to death.

This entire story is supposedly about the continual fight of good and evil. But it doesn’t appear that good ever triumphs over evil. The battle just continues. After the dancers are unable to stab themselves, the dance ends. Much later in the day we visited the temple of holy waters and saw the “real” barong kept there in a shrine. When the barong dance is performed in the temple ceremonies, the barong dancers are in a trance. They actually do try to stab themselves with gold daggers, but no one has ever been successful in killing himself. Sometimes the skin is broken and bleeds, but no one has been killed performing this dance. As in other things, the power of true believing overcomes.

After the dance performance we visited some stone carving places. At one place small boys were working on carving the soft volcanic stone, which is very smooth. It was surprising to see the intricacy and quality of the work of these young boys. And before all the liberals in the USA start yammering about abuses of child labor, please remember that these people are delighted to have these jobs. Their culture is not the same as 2009 USA. They want these jobs and are very proud to be able to work at this age.

Next was a small gold and silver working shop. The men use whatever tools are available to work these precious metals. One man was using an old large nail to bend the silver around to form shapes used in jewelry. From looking at the beautiful finished products one would never suspect that old nails had been used to make these necklaces. Sitting near the men were several roosters in woven cages. These are fighting cocks. Cock fighting is very popular in Bali.

As we were driving away from the jewelry shop we saw this man carrying a bed platform down the street on his head. Happy guy.

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