By Honey Writer
You never know what ceremony, dance, or parade you are going to encounter while on a Bali cycling tour, but you’re sure to see at least one.
There are spirits who live here and not all of them are good ones.
Unlike western stories, of fairies and Santa Clause, which are reserved only for children, the legends of the Bali faith are seen as true and hold powerful meaning for locals, from the very young to the very old.
These living spirits of Bali, eat, sleep play and grant wishes.
What I’m starting to realise though is that maybe western society has real spirits too. Genuine ones that need to be carefully checked on. Ones that aren’t always so friendly.
Yesterday, all the main intersections in each village were closed off with giant decorated marquees for Barong.
They day was filled with music and dancing, offerings in driveways, traditional dress, kids dressed to the nines and looking completely adorable and, even more offerings, (as I said, spirits eat, so they need food in the form of coconuts, raw eggs and rice to keep them sustained while they do battle.)
As well of the offerings there are stands of blessed water, streams of smoke from sweet incense and handheld fires on silver platters. Not to mention the gamelan. A percussion group of some 30 boys and men, aged anywhere from 6 to 60 gonging away in perfect unison on different sized panels, cymbals, gongs and xylophones with delicately shaped hammers.
Those not dancing or gonging, sang.
The effect is enchanting and truly magical.
What Happens In A Barong
While we didn’t understand twhat was happening to start with, we managed to nut the bulk of it out. This is what I learned. The event begins with a grass monster black and a grass monster blond doing a dance. I am to understand these are monkeys, although they looked like something from a May Gibbs picture book that might possibly eat a gum nut baby.
Then came Barong, the handsomest mythic lion you’ll ever see. Barong resembles a Chinese dragon with a detailed mask face, only he’s more earthy than the Chinese version. Barong is a creature of mud and rice fields rather than one of sky and clouds. We like Barong a lot. He is the king of the spirits, leader of good.
There is no story though with only good, it doesn’t get interesting until there is an evil counterweight, in the case of Barong, it’s Rangda, the demon queen and mother of spirit guarders. The ceremony then unfolds to tell of the battle of good and evil. After an elaborate dance by the people, offering coconuts, colourful flowers and rice to the spirits, the evil Rangda processes the innocent people, causing them to commit suicide, quite brutally, by stabbing themselves to death with sharp knives. Barong comes in to save the people by protecting their bodies against the wounds they self-inflict. The intensity of this is so palpable some participants are literally unable to stand, so overcome with the moment. Each waving soul is completely supported by their community, who gathered around to allow them to experience and surrender to the celebration, quivering and losing balance as the dance overtakes them (there were no knives used, just to assure you that mimicking the knife action is enough).
It made me feel like we were missing something in our rigid traditions. Especially because it didn’t really matter if you were entirely enthralled, you were welcome to gong with one hand and send messages on your phone with the other. That’s just how Bali is, there is a way, you get there however you like.
Stop To Smell The Incense?
There are consequences though to holding a ceremony in the main street where over 200 people dance in gorgeous while lace clothes. For a start, the main road is blocked, causing many travellers (mostly tourists) to turn and navigate another way, and let me tell you, other ways are few and on a needs to know basis, also, it will most likely destroy your evening run. If you are not from Indonesia, are wearing a black sports bra and boyleg shorts you might not feel comfortable about joining in when you encounter this event, but do you ignore the ceremony all together?
What kind of demon exists in your Garmin that literally has you run through the middle of a truly spectacular event without even glancing left or right?
Ignoring it might be easy to do on the run out because the blond and dark monkeys haven’t started dancing yet, however, on the run back, it gets a little tricky. With the performance in full swing, dancing, convulsing, gonging and singing, your path is completely blocked. There are two solutions:
You can inch around the channel, balance on a board between baskets of cheeping chicks and slip down a side street, BUT that’s not your regular route and you’ve lost valuable time on the board balance.
OR you can forget the run, do some light stretches and enjoy the show, enjoy the spirit of another place and time and let the good magic of Barong conquer the demon in your Garmin.
After all, the story isn’t interesting unless there is good vs evil and the story isn’t good unless good defeats evil.
Feed Your Garmin
I am going to warn you that if you choose to ride with UpShift Tours we will be doing the Barong (good magic) experience. So while our girl in black might have chosen the board balance, annoyed as she checks her Garmin in on lonely Sunday night run and presses on.
Of course, we do everything possible to avoid delays, so you can ride free and fast and get the Garmin dancing.
Every road is researched to ensure it is smooth and quiet, and we leave early to be home and cool by the pool before the real heat of the day sets in.
However, should the experience of a ceremony parade block the path, we’ll wait it out and give you time to soak it in; the music, the colour, the offerings.
We have a good coffee to cycling ratio so breezes and rice fields are fully appreciated. This is a holiday, we treat it like that and take it very seriously!
We will feed the demon in your Garmin for sure, we will also bring good magic to protect you from the sharp objects of time and stress you might be trying to kill yourself with, and ensure that when life happens, on our tours, you can put tools down, and smell the incense.