Bali Warrior Dance and Ceremonial Combat
Last week I had the privilege to join the annual Makere-kere, a ritual warrior dance ceremony in Tenganan Village in east Bali. On a previous visit to this village with our Indonesian guide Komang, I was invited by one of the village elders to return for this ceremony– to not only watch, but to join in this special ritual fighting. Makere-kere is when bare-chested bachelors of the village fight each other using very sharp-edged pandanus leaves to scratch each other’s skin. These ritual fights result in lacerations and (symbolic) bloodletting to honor the Hindu god of war, Indra. It was my honor to be invited. Normally only local villagers participate, not outsiders and certainly not foreigners, so it was an offer I couldn’t refuse!
Despite being opened to tourism for many years, the village of Tenganan still holds to their authentic traditions, ceremonies and customs. According to the divine plan of the god Indra, this village was selected to model the belief that its bachelors are only allowed to marry village maidens or they’ll have to leave and move away. No outsiders are allowed to move into this village. Territorial, corporal and spiritual purity is of utmost importance to the community. The people of Tenganan are called Bali Aga, the indigenous people of Bali.
Upon arrival in the village, Komang and I are welcomed into the family compound of a village elder that is in charge of interceding with the weather gods. Pak (Mr.) Wayan Karta has to make sure there will be no rain during the two days of the ceremony. In a small secret spot in his compound, he prays and burns incense to banish rain clouds during the ceremonial days. Despite heavy rains on the days prior to and after the festival, there was no rain during our day there!
Before getting dressed (or undressed) to participate in the fights, I joined the ceremonial warriors lunch on tipat or gado gado, steamed vegetables with peanut sauce and kecap manis (a sweet condiment). The food was delicious, but unfortunately there was no alcohol available. I was looking for a beer or local rice wine to not only wash down the Balinese lunch, but moreover to give me some liquid courage for the upcoming warrior dance combat.
Hundreds of people, mostly locals and some tourists, circled excitedly around the 10×10 meter combat ring. After what seemed like hours of waiting in the heat, the fights finally started. The first to go were the youngest and then it was my turn. My opponent gave me a friendly greeting after which we engaged in a quick but aggressive battle. Using our arms and the thorny pandanus leaves we kept hitting and scratching each other on the back until the thorny leaves were shredded or a drop of blood hit the dry soil. The short fight ended and I was cheered as the tall, botak (bold) foreigner while some young boys kindly picked the thorns out of my back.
Back in Pak Wayan’s house, I finally got my drink of alcohol when he happily shared his jug of rice wine with me. My day spent as a makere-kere warrior might leave a few minor scars but overall, it was very memorable day and a once in a lifetime experience!
Throughout the year, the village of Tenganan hosts several traditional ceremonies, most of which are open to the public. But there is another unique quality making this charming village worthy of a visit: Tenganan is one of only three places in the world (along with India and Japan) where double ikat or geringsing weaving is still being produced. This beautiful ikat weaving cloth has a characteristic pattern and color scheme and is regarded as sacred cloth with special healing and spiritual uses.
The local villagers invite you into their home workshops where visitors can observe and discuss all the details of how this weaving technique is practiced. A visit can very well be combined with a visit to Goa Lawa and Kertagosa in Klungkung. Tenganan is about 1.5 hours from Sanur or one hour from Sidemen. From Manggis, the drive is only about a half hour.
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