Stranger Than Fiction – Barong Berutuk

Secret Bali | Written By, NOW! BALI-2 | December 1st, 2014

When it comes to weirdness, there are pockets of people in Bali that know a thing or two about it. When ancient animistic rites become entwined with slightly more mainstream Hindu practices in remote areas of the island, visitors may come across things you would never imagine.

When it comes to weirdness, there are pockets of people in Bali that know a thing or two about it. When ancient animistic rites become entwined with slightly more mainstream Hindu practices in remote areas of the island, visitors may come across things you would never imagine.

A friend told me of an extraordinary barong ritual that would be happening at the Pura Puser Jager in Trunyan, the Bali Aga village that nestles along the shores of volcanic Lake Batur, in the Kintamani district.

Talks of banana leaves and whips had my imagination reeling and as usual I expected the extraordinary. Well I was not disappointed. The barongs are known as Barong Berutuk and these strange creatures could have leapt straight out of deepest darkest Afrika, or Borneo, or maybe Haiti – the sort of being you don’t want to meet in your nightmares. They told me that this ceremony happens once every 15 years, and whether it’s true or not, it’s quite often enough in my opinion.

We arrived to see huge numbers of people milling about and with cameras in tow, we squeezed through the crowds of lovely ceremonially dressed folk to get to the area of action. The main activity centred in the temple area where the masked “barongs” were circulating in a tranced state, cracking their whips at everyone within their range. An adventure already with dodging whips the order of the day!

This whipping managed to keep the crowds entertained for hours as people dodged and the crowd ebbed and flowed according to the whips. While some dodged and ducked, others welcomed it. Were they masochists? Or is it that some folk consider it to be healing, or at least very good luck to get a bit of a lashing!

The barong costumes were indeed fabricated from banana leaves, but not the cute green leaves I had envisioned. Rather they were fashioned from rows and rows of dried leaves creating a huge leafy robe, all topped off with strange masks, which I guess the participants designed themselves. Of Bali’s fifteen or more types of barongs – mostly stately and beautiful, with faces coated with gold prada, and coats of black from the hairy jaka palm, or white coats from the pandan plant, or even skins of tiger or leopard – these were very different. The dried banana leaves were almost morbid and the effect was eerily primitive. When combined with the extremely strange masks the effect is close to unnerving. Pop a banana stem whip into their hands of these tranced out creatures and the main desire is to run before they get you!

With 21 of these demon-like creatures roaming about, the whole effect was surreal to the extreme!

An ancient gamelan orchestra was also expected to play but as luck would have it this gamelan, one of the oldest in Bali had played several days earlier so we missed the silvery tones and slow beat of the performance.

It seems that the Barong Berutuk confers some kind of sacred blessing ceremony. Devoted people stood by with platefuls of offerings, possibly to appease the demons which lay within each barong or, within each of us? It is a once in a lifetime experience, and once as I said, is more than enough.

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NOW! BALI-2

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