Penti Animist Rituals in Indonesia Combine Chanting, Martial Arts & Animal Sacrifice
Penti is a series of ancient rituals related to the agricultural cycle to offer thanksgiving for the harvest and prayers to bring prosperity to the New Year. It is celebrated on the island of Flores in Eastern Indonesia in a traditional village called Wae Rebo. Located in an isolated site in the district of Manggari, this village ritual is very special and unique and visitors are encouraged to witness the festivities.
The houses of the Manggari people are called Mharu Niang and have very unique architecture. The fireplace is big enough for eight families to share and live communally. The homes are round and windowless and a large ridgepole sticks out from a tall, conical, thatched roof.
Penti marks the turn of the year for the Wae Rebo villagers, which occurs in November following the modern calendar. The ceremony begins when the sound of a gong confirms the time for the people to start carrying offerings to the main house. The rituals take place in three sacred places; Barong Wae, Wae-Woang and the village front gate or Pa’ang and the Mandong where they can dedicate their prayers for the health and prosperity of all the community. The people divide themselves into three groups. Using the rhythm of the gong, the people will sing and march to these three sacred places. Lead by four women, the Manggari people will invite the good spirits that watch over the sacred places to the feast.
Penti will also be highlighted with the fascinating display of Caci, in which two men perform traditional martial arts skills in attack and defense using a whip and a shield. To honor the dignity of the martial arts, every time the whip and shield clash, the fighter must sing. There is no winner or loser in this performance; however, blows that wound the opponent’s body (except the head) are considered good omens for a fertile year. Dancing, singing and circling the arena, sometimes even a bit of mocking by the spectators encourages the Caci fighters.
After the Caci, the ceremony will continue at the graves of respected elders. The shaman will say a prayer at each tomb and give a sacrifice ritual. There will be more chanting and invitations to the spirits. Sacrifices will continue in the main house where a chicken is slayed in each of the eight family rooms and a piece of chicken carrion is hung in each corner of the house. This is done for each house in the village.
After a full day of rituals, the fun continues with more chanting inside the house as the sun goes down. The elderly leaders and village people will sing a song which is so ancient that even the elderly cannot translate the words in the modern Manggarian language.
The peak event of the Penti ceremony is the sacrifice of two pigs. Using the blood of the pigs, the most respected leader will give a prayer and “read” the future of the Wae Rebo. Meanwhile, the women are serving the strong local coffee and liquor to warm the atmosphere of the celebration. The ritual chanting or Sanda is performed together with foot tapping on the wooden floor making a dynamic rhythm. Penti concludes with the first sunrise of the New Year.