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Playful Island Culture; Bali’s Fascinating Underrated Traditions

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Balinese people inherited many fascinating culture and traditions from their ancestors. A number of these unique traditions are presented as an attraction and as a treat for tourists during their holiday to the island of Bali. Here we listed some of the island’s underrated cultural traditions.

  1. Mesuryak

Done by the people of Bongan village, Tabanan, Mesuryak is a cheering tradition which is done by throwing money into the air. In this tradition the contestant ‘fight’ over the money thrown by citizen. This procession is quite exciting, even though people are scrambling to get the money, but the cheerful and peaceful atmosphere can be felt from all the laughter and shouting.

Mesuryak comes from the word ‘suryak’ which means cheering or squealing. It is also a symbol of prosperity; not by the amount of money thrown into account, but the magnanimity and gratitude that determine one’s prosperity.

2. Megibung

The tradition of communal eating done by Balinese traditional community in Karangasem regency, Megibung is a dining occasion that demonstrates togetherness in Balinese life. It is an activity where some people sit together and share the food from one big plate or, more traditionally, off of a big piece of banana leaf.

Large quantity of rice are placed on dulang (containers made of wood or clay) covered with tamas (knitted coconut leaves). But nowadays megibung uses a tray covered with banana leaf or rice paper instead of dulang. A large mound of rice is placed on the tray along with other dishes, each occupies a respective corner of the tray. People sitting cross-legged in a circle when enjoying the food.

3. Mekotek

Commenced as part of Kuningan procession, Mekotek is a ceremony to get rid of bad luck. nitially, this ceremony was held to welcome the Mengwi Kingdom soldiers who had won against the Blambangan Kingdom in Java. But until now, this tradition has been maintained by the local community. The Mekotek traditional ceremony uses 2.5-meter wooden sticks. The sticks are then put together to form a pyramid-like shape. The name came from the sound produced when the wooden sticks collided with each other.

Almost all residents of Munggu Village participated in the Mekotek tradition. Particularly men aged between 12 and 60 years. They divided themselves into groups of 50 people to form the wooden sticks into pyramid shapes. The most courageous participants in the group climb up the top of the wood and give the command to attack other groups. This tradition certainly has a sacred value, because it is a cultural heritage from the ancestors.

4. Mekare-Kare

Hosted once a year in the quiet, enchanting Tenganan village in Karangasem regency, Mekare-kare is a sacred ‘gladiator’ ritual held to honor Lord Indra, the god of war in Hindu believes. Drawing blood is the main purpose of Mekare-Kare. Using scores of thorny pandan leaves tied together to form a short club, the contestant would use it in flowing striking and slashing movements to inflict damage to his opponent’s back.

Dressed only in kamen (long cloths) wrapped around their waists and udeng (headcloth), the adult and child gladiators gathered around the arena, waiting for their turn to display their skills. In their hands were the clubs and round shields made of woven rattan. At the conclusion of the battle, their bloody wounds were treated with a traditional potion made of turmeric, vinegar, cucumber and antiseptic. No grudge or anger between all the fighters, as there is no winner or loser in Mekare-Kare; therefore, they must fight from a place of love.

5. Mesbes Bangke

Might sounds extreme to some, Mesbes Bangke (literally means ‘tearing up corpses’) is a tradition still done by the people of Banjar Buruan, Tampaksiring, Gianyar. According to old tales, this tradition began because corpses in ancient times often smelled bad because there was no formaldehyde or other preservatives. In order for this bad odor to be forgotten, the residents finally tore up the corpse. For the outside community and foreigners, this extreme treatment of corpses might be considered inhuman, especially for the body of the deceased and their families. However, the people of Banjar Buruan do it with great joy, and it is considered as an honor to the dead and their body.

6. Mapeed

Considered as one of Bali’s most iconic ceremonies, Mapeed is a tradition where lines of Balinese women walk together as ritual. Mapeed held by the Balinese women in white or yellow kebaya because that colour is symbolizing purity, lined up long with fruits arrangement of offerings towering on its head.

Mapeed usually accompanied by Balinese marching or gongs, drums and cymbals called baleganjur which they can walk more than 1 km distance. The arrangement of towering fruits that they bring on its head called ‘Gebogan’. Fruits, flowers and cakes arranged in a traditional tray called Dulang. It is fascinating to see how all the women can walk casually with the full-packed tray that sometime can reach the length of 1 meter. What a spectacle indeed!

7. Mepantigan

One of Bali’s very own form of martial art, Mepantigan main objective is not self-defense, but rather to act as a medium to educate people about nature, empathy, and discipline. Mepantigan more frequently practiced in the mud, hence it is known fondly by many tourists as Balinese mud-wrestling. The ceremony is just as important as the duel itself. A priest leads the participants to pray to Dewi Sri, the Hindu goddess of prosperity.

Mepantigan instills its positive values by challenging attitudes towards violence, and its ‘duels’ or ‘battles’ are often referred to as ‘shows’. When the duel begins, each performer attempts to lock the opponent and perform a successful knockdown by throwing. There are strict rules: no inflicting damage, such as biting, pulling hair, punching or kicking. When the bamboo clock runs out of the water after three minutes, the game ends. Each performer bows embraces, and walk off as men and women of peace.

8. Megoak-Goakan

Originated in the regency’s Panji Village, Buleleng, Megoak-goakan is the means of acting like a crow to defeat a snake by catching the snake’s tail. Two groups of people will line up and hold each others waist. When the game start, they will try to catch the opponent’s ‘tail’ (the last person on the line).

It is still a very popular game in Buleleng until today. Kids play the game in the schoolyard or in the neighbourhood. The game is also popular amongst adults. Not only boys play this game, but girls too. Megoak-goakan has become a unique performing art over the years. The game has been choreographed in several ways combining dramatic stories, dances, stand up comedy and exchanging verse between the two groups.


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