Metatah : A Balinese Teeth Filing (Done with Style)
Its not every day that some well placed person in Ubud society organises a huge metatah or tooth filing ceremony for her greater family, it was an affair to remember.
Without mentioning any names, the event took place at the popular Honeymoon Guest House where twenty two children or young adults had their front teeth filed to acceptable proportions in the Balinese culture. Filing is a mandatory coming of age event for all Balinese members, and while the poorer classes receive sponsorship from the government, the others create their own events.
Of course like any other coming of age ceremony in Bali, this is also a good excuse for a party. For guests to take a day off work, to dress up in their finest and fanciest and be entertained is a very welcome break in routine.
After being welcomed with cake and fresh fruit juice at the entrance, there is a choice of options – you can opt to head to a chair and sit politely or wander around looking at everything.
After meeting a colleague at the entrance, we floated from one area to the next, watching the proceedings. While most of the guests were Balinese, there was a sprinkling of local expat luminaries who are always guaranteed to create a little excitement.
Every guest, Balinese or bule (Western), wore traditional sarong & kebaya although some of the local ladies managed to transform their dress into an exotic fashion statement. Big hair was the order of the day, and the popular style requires the addition of at least one or two hairpieces to give the requisite body to the bouffant. Makeup was thick and the eyelashes were long. While many family groups wore matching coloured tops, the array of fine sarongs was a visual treat.
But it wasn’t just about looking better than the neighbour, metatah is an important coming of age ceremony on everybody’s Balinese calendar. Western women who marry a Balinese man will need to have it done before they are able to enter the family.
The symbolic tooth filing takes place as the children reach puberty, although it may need to wait for a year or two until other siblings come of age. Sometimes the filing takes place just before a wedding or is incorporated into another ceremony to save costs which can easily run into high figures. The filing is used to control or appease negative human characteristics – such as greed, jealousy, lust, anger, ill-will and intoxication of the senses whether by lust of alcohol. Evenly smooth teeth represent an even temperament while sharp and uneven canines represent animal passions which need to be restrained at all costs. The filing ceremony also represents the end of the father’s responsibilities to his female children which are now complete.
The metatah event is chosen for an auspicious day and for the higher castes, the ceremony always has a Brahmin priest in attendance. The actual filing ceremony takes place on a special high platform covered with textiles and draperies. Big pillows are there to rest the head and keep the body comfortable. Offerings are piled up around the platform – offerings of sweet cakes and fruit, rice and flowers all decorate the space making it look richly festive.
At a big affair like a metatah, entertainment is part of the show and it can last well into the night. After a lull in the afternoon, gamelan and dance and sometimes a performance by village cabaret all enliven the festivities well into the night.
The attendees wear a special dress of rich songket – the boys wear it as a sarong tied under their arms and often a Kris will protrude from the back. The girls wear a sarong, all with a theme of yellow and white to symbolise holiness. Their sarongs are enhanced with “kamben” or sacred cloth to grace the occasion further. The garments and the makeup are as lavish as can be.
It is a happy day for everyone – a chance for the adults to relax from their daily life and gossip and for those involved to feel like princes and princesses for a day.
At this particular ceremony, a huge area was set up as a food court – no cardboard boxes here – and guests could help themselves to an exotic array of Balinese delicacies – vegetables, gado gado, babi guling, duck and chicken, satay and more. Luscious tropical drinks such as a delicious cendol and juices kept everyone happy and hydrated. Beer was in generous supply for those who like it and the whole beautiful event was arranged with the finesse that only the expert organisers can manage.
All I can say is thank you Janet and her wonderful husband Ketut and the huge extended family!