Penti Ritual in Indonesia Combines Chanting, Martial Arts & Animal Sacrifice
The sound of a gong signals the start of the Penti ceremony, an annual tradition to offer thanksgiving for the harvest and pray for prosperity and good health to the members of the community.
Penti is a series of ancient rituals related to the agricultural cycle that offer thanksgiving for the harvest and prayers to bring prosperity for the next year. It is celebrated on Flores Island in Eastern Indonesia in a traditional village called Wae Rebo. Located at an isolated site in the Manggari district of Flores, this animist ritual is quite unusual but the villagers welcome visitors to witness the festivities.
The houses of the Manggari people are called Mharu Niang and have a unique design. The communal fireplace is big enough for eight families to share. The round and windowless homes are built with a large ridgepole that protrudes out from a tall, conical thatched roof.
Penti marks the turn of the year for the Wae Rebo villagers, which falls in November on 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. Then, divided into three groups and using the rhythm of the gong, the people will sing and march to three sacred places where they will dedicate prayers for the health and prosperity of the community. Lead by four women, the Manggari villagers will also invite the good spirits that watch over the sacred places to the feast.
Another highlight of the Penti festival is the fascinating display of Caci, in which two men perform traditional martial arts skills using a whip and a shield for attack and defend, respectively. To honor the dignity of the martial arts, every time the whip and shield clash, the fighters must sing. There is no winner or loser in this performance; however, blows that wound an opponent’s body (except the head) are considered good omens for a fertile harvest. Dancing, singing and circling the arena, sometimes shouting a bit of mocking, the spectators encourage the Caci fighters.
After the Caci display, the Penti ceremony will continue at the graves of respected elders. The shaman will say a prayer at each tomb and perform a ritual sacrifice. There will be more chanting and invitations to the spirits.
For each house in the village, a chicken is slayed for each of the family rooms and a piece of chicken carrion is hung in a corner of the main room. 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 into modern 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 divine the future of the Wae Rebo village. Ritual chanting is performed together with foot tapping on the wooden floor making a dynamic rhythm. Meanwhile, the women are serving some strong local coffee and liquor to warm the atmosphere of the celebration. Penti concludes with the first sunrise of the new year.
For more information about Wae Rebo and the Penti festival, please contact to [email protected]