It’s never a bad idea to take a day off school for an eye-opening experience, and this is just what our friends from Our Year in Bali did for the Pandan War or Mekare-kare ceremony in East Bali.
Before the 1970’s Tenganan Pegringsingan (about 5 minutes from the sleepy beach side town of Candi Dasa) was known by anthropologists to be one of the most secluded societies of the archipelago. This area is also known as part of the Bali Aga region where the indigenous people of Bali live.
It took about 2 hours to get there and surprisingly we weren’t stuck behind any ceremonies. The time went by singing to Ed Sheeran and watching James Corden Carpool Karaoke on my phone (a secret obsession). We drove through ‘poor areas’ according to Liam and closer to the village we came across the Bat temple (Goa Lawah), misty mountains and rice fields.
After an early lunch at a cute little cafe in Candi Dasa, we arrived at the normally quiet village, which was very busy with activity and excitement from locals, visitors and professional photographers from all around the world.
Before we walked in Demi got changed into a colourful Balinese outfit that I bought at the traditional market and I convinced Liam to wear a white shirt on top of his t-shirt, but the deal was it had to be buttoned open.
The main event is the Perang Pandan, a war dance ceremony also referred to locally as ‘mekare-kare’. We learned that it is a mass coming-of-age ritual, dedicated to the Hindu god of war and the sky, Indra, which sees friendly duels between all male villagers, who bout each other armed with a small rattan shield in one hand and a tied packet of thorny ‘pandan’ leaves in the other.
We watched our friend Putu from the village have his second ‘fight’ where his body gets lashes from the leaves’ sharp thorns scratching his arms, chest and back. Surprisingly, he showed no pain and had a smile on his face the whole time. It must help drinking the local alcoholic beverage beforehand called Tuak (made from fermented coconut – sorry not Kombucha!) which I had a taste of back at his uncle’s house. I am told it’s an acquired taste, but it reminded me of bad wine.
We were also offered sugary tea and babi guling (suckling pig which was made early that morning). The small humble home (which is an eye opener for Liam and Demi), was filled with about 15 villagers sitting together chatting, smoking and drinking tuak.
Before the official fights take place there were processions of boys, men and women parading through the village in traditional costumes, yellow and white umbrellas and playing loud festive music. It was a wonderful sight to see and we were literally amongst it all – no taped off sections here!
So back to the fighting, they hold these rattan shields which are mere accessories and scratch each other with a fist full of pandan leaves for about 30 seconds. There is no winner or loser. Wounds are simply treated with some herbs, yellow and white turmeric and vinegar or coconut oil.
Apart from the ceremonial fights, the village also had a carnival like feel with food stands and villagers selling different crafts.The kids encountered their first gambling experience when we saw people crowd around a man with a game called “kocok” translated into ‘shake’. Basically there is a large sheet on the floor with 6 squares, each with one picture on it. You place your money on one of the squares and then he shakes three pictured dice under a black lid and reveals the winning pictures. We weren’t talking big money, only around Rp2,000 (20c) a turn as we saw that was what the other kids were playing with but after having a go and seeing how quickly we could win and then loose it was a good lesson for the kids (I hope).
The other interesting thing in the village are these hand-made wooden swings which look like mini Ferris wheels. I believe the women of the village dress up in traditional costumes and take turns on the swings. We saw four swings all up and they each had about 12 seats. Of course Demi was brave enough to have a turn (there aren’t any seat belts) but luckily they were all locked with rope. I must admit it brought back memories of when Demi age 2 decided to get under her seat belt and stand up at the top of a Ferris wheel at a local carnival! Yep the scariest 2 minutes of our lives!
It took us 2½ hours to get back home but the kids were troopers and said they had a wonderful time and understood how special it was to experience such a day.
Thanks Putu for showing us amazing customs and traditions like the Pandan War still continue in 2017!
This blog was first published by Our Year in Bali. Check out their blog for all kinds of fun things they’ve been up to over the past year (plus a bit more) in Bali!