Indonesia

The Barong and Kris Dance: Good vs Evil in Bali, Indonesia


Gadeh, who drove us to Ubud last week, and then back via Tanah Lot,

arrives at 8:30 to pick us up. We are off for a day of touring Bali.

About 8:50 we arrive to see the Sari Wisata Budaya performance of the Barong & Kris Dance. The theme is the never-ending fight between good and evil, this time, personified by a Rangda (boo!) and a Barong (yay!). It is presented in 5 acts, and has a particularly Shakespearean sequence involving the servants killing and then abusing the dead body of the monkey – as gruesome as it sounds, it was very funny in the same way as the night porter sequence in Macbeth is very funny.

In Act 5, 4 young men dance in a trance with their krises, and they attempt to stab themselves. However, the power of the Barong is so strong that their krises could do them no harm.

Heading to the Mother Temple

After the performance, we set off for Besakih, a town mid-way up Mount Agung and home of the Mother Temple, the holiest site on Bali and home of the high priest of Balinese Hinduism. There are 18 temples in the complex (not including private family temples – we felt like we were in Santa Croce in Firenze) and as we begin our spiritual and physical climb to the top, the rain starts to fall. We are offered umbrellas all the way up (at a price, of course) and sarongs at 10,000 rupiah if we do not have our own for these holy grounds. We, of course, do.

The temple was in the process of being decorated for a major religious feast that begins this weekend, much to our luck. Everywhere, women are carrying offerings – mainly flowers and food – on their heads. The decorations already in place were quite stunning, and we were able to watch (from outside – only believers are allowed into the temples proper, but being Bali, the demarcation between inside and outside is not very rigorously observed, so the temples for the most part do not have walls or roofs) the high priests, in their beautifully embroidered crowns, perform a service.

We hired a guide to show us around the temple – more to put money in his pocket than for any other reason. Although there are many tourists around in Kuta-Legian-Seminyak, we know from talking to people outside this main tourist area that the tourism fall-off since the bombing in the fall of 2002 has been harder away from the main tourist area. Indonesia has a policy of putting industrial development on other islands and preserving Bali as a pristine island with tourism as virtually its sole industry. This has meant that the downturn in tourism in Bali since the bombing has reduced the island’s GDP significantly, and everywhere we go outside the main tourist area there is clear evidence of the recession.

Ganesh in Holiday Garb

At the exit from the Temples, we see a striking sight – Ganesh, the god of education, who has an elephant’s head, dressed for the holiday. We end up glad of our guide, having learned a great deal about the temple, Balinese Hinduism, Bali generally, and having practiced our French for an hour, because we discovered that our guide, Mahdeh (the name given to the 2nd child born into the family) spoke quite good French and was interested in practicing it. Not that we’re the best people to practice French with, but the 3 of us were quite pleased with ourselves after our hour together.

Gadeh drives us down the mountain to Candi Dasa, a beautiful town on the south-east coast of the island, for lunch in a restaurant overlooking the Indian Ocean. We watch the freighters go by, savouring our curries. It is pouring rain about 4 km out in the ocean. and indeed it has been rainy all day, but at lunch, the skies open wide. Unlike other rainstorms we’ve experienced here, this one does not abate. We drive back through flooded roads, feeling quite sorry for the scooter riders. The people planting the rice paddies we drive by and the only ones who don’t look put out by the rain – they are used to being wet.

Across a Bailey Bridge, in the Pouring Rain

We took a shortcut this morning down a road under construction and had to go over a bailey bridge at one point where the new bridge wasn’t complete. When we get there on the way back it is pandemonium – the earthen road down to the bailey bridge is pure mud, and on the other side, a truck has jackknifed and blocked traffic in both directions. We quickly realize that it will not move until the mud has dried – which won’t be today – there aren’t a lot of tow trucks on Bali. We backtrack, and take the old main road through village after village. At one point, we are behind what seems to be everyone in a village walking the village shrine to the village temple for purification.

Everywhere we see banners – red, white, green and yellow – for the various parties in the upcoming national elections. Red – the colour of Megawati’s party – dominates everywhere we go. Despite the torrent, the banners flutter in the wind – and we say a prayer that the best person wins on Monday. We have come to really like the people of Bali, and to feel very sorry for them – the bombing has not been good for them, and the government does not appear to know how to do anything to improve the situation.

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