Saturday, May 22, 2010

Biting the heads off chickens

This afternoon Hoyt took us to a temple ceremony in Selat Pekan up in the mountains. This was the first time we have had an opportunity to attend such an event that was not designed for tourists. There were hundreds of Balinese there and just a couple of dozen tourists.
The event began with Sanskrit chants and sermons, then prayers, then a long kind of mummers play with kings and demons, and lots of comic relief, and then the main event, a variant Barong dance, during and after which a number of men went into trances. This was quite well organized with a clear group of men officiating. They held the trancees (is that a word?) down -- not an easy task, or at least they made it look theatrically difficult -- and emptied their pockets, not sure if they did other things as well. Then let them go and gave them large knives (which a number of us thought was inadvisable since they then proceeded to charge the crowd, but it certainly added to the excitement of the evening, to most people's glee.) The officiants then dangled live chicks in front of the trancees and also bottles of arak -- Balinese moonshine -- because the possessing spirits love blood and alcohol (reminds me of this song.) The trancees, about five guys at this point, would grab the chicks and bite their heads off, then proceed to eat the birds heads and all. One guy must have eaten a dozen chicks. Finally, they are woken from their trance with holy water and weariness and proceeded through the temple gates and the evening is over. At which point we all stream out of the temple.
Generally a good time was had by all, exciting, communal, gossipy. It reminded me of a bullfight.

The most powerful point for me was when the temple guards forced everyone to crouch down below the spirits and Barong (no one could be higher than a spirit.) They were more successful with those people nearer the action. There was this wonderful transgressive amoeba-like quality to the crowd, everyone wanted to stand up and see but also were scared to exceed the gods or defy the guards. As we crouched down we needed more space and the crowd was pushed back. As we rose, we pressed forward. So under the hot lights in this enclosed space on a tropical night we wavered back and forth as the gods moved amongst us and the Barong paced around.

Next I will post a couple of videos from the event, so stay tuned.

1 comment:

Charlene said...

Ha, sounds as if you had a roaring good time. I've attended this ceremony in Selat one time with Hoyt (last year) and found it alternatingly peaceful (initial prayer time), funny, hypnotic (the music). Even though I'd learned that the event was full of amazing Balinese Hindu stories and expressions of their god-appeasing beliefs, unlike you I was pretty scared a few times, especially when the crowd pressed in like sardines to make way for the prancing Barong. Yes, I'm a wimp. The sacred kris knives looked frightening, too, but in the end all went well. Glad you guys could see this. Looking forward to your photos!