It is already a half-year ago since we visited Tenganan village, the village in east Bali belonging to the Aga people, descendants from the original Balinese people. The people are known for their conservatism and resistance to change. They have traditions and rituals that are different from the rest of Bali Hinduism and culture, as an example, they bury their people instead of cremation and they have a communistic system which does not recognize individual ownership of property, they share everything.
Talking to some people in the village in January, they told us there was going to be a certain kind of ceremony/ritual in June we should come and see. It was going to be men fighting each other with thorny pandan leaves. We memorized the date and promised to come and see it.
Tuesday 15 June it was time for the ritual in Tenganan, Rino asked to leave work early and off we went on the scooter. We had seen in a magazine that the start time was 4pm, we wanted to be in time and well aware of the "elastic Bali time", we were not sure the time in the magazine was correct. Driving up the last kilometers to the village we saw people, cars and scooters going suspiciously much in the opposite direction of us, we knew that both thought the same...it is already finished. But after a 1½ hour drive you don’t just assume, you check for sure. We parked on the extremely busy parking lot and walked into the village. It was almost not recognizable from last time, packed with Indonesian, foreign tourists and locals, it was a busy atmosphere with food stalls and marked stalls selling all kinds of stuff. We quickly asked a girl if the fight was over, luckily it was not! :-) It was just lasting for many hours and therefore a lot of people already went home. We were so relived and hurried up the village to where the fight was taking place.
The fight is known as mekare kare, the ritual blood sacrifice. All men in the village get involved in the ritual, using thorny pandan leaves to draw blood. The men are carrying weapons of a rotan-woven shield to protect themselves and a bundle of the thorny pandan leaves, used to scratch the opponent's skin until it bleeds.
Before the fight begins, participants drink rice wine or arak, local palmspirit, to symbolize brotherhood and sportsmanship. But when the Balinese music fills the air, a volley of fierce jeers, insults, cheers and shouts are thrown to instil fear. And the fighting begins.
The fighting is judged by a mediator, mostly a prominent figure of the village, and usually lasts for 5 to 10 minutes. The first person to draw blood with the thorny weapon is the winner, and the person he draws blood from is the beaten. Both winner and beaten are broken apart by the mediator as soon as blood is drawn.
As the injured are treated with traditional liquid medicines, and all fighters recover their strength, the whole village prepares food and drink for a big feast, which must follow the Balinese sacrifice of human blood.
To us it looked a bit chaotic, a lot of people standing on and around the stage where the fights took place, and each fight was directly followed by the next. We could imagine that people left after half an hour looking. Bur it for sure was an interesting happening and it was fascinating to look at the men and boys fighting and how they came down with blood on their backs and chests. It was for sure real battles, but luckily a lot of laughing all the time. They clearly had a lot of fun together despite all the wounds and blood. A fighting for the ritual and tradition, but still very friendly somehow because of all the smiles and laughs.
We are happy we went to see. See the pictures for an impression of the happening.
This is not our video, but its on youtube, you can see how the fights go.