High up in the mountains of Northeast Bali, on the shore of lake Batur in the ancient Batur caldera lies Trunyan, one of three remaining traditional Bali Aga villages. The Bali Aga are the original Balinese and their culture pre-dates Hinduism, which came to Bali with the migration of the hindu kingdom of Majapahit from the island of Java, around 1340.
The culture of each Bali Aga village is unique and in Trunyan one of the surviving ancient rituals is the Barong Brutuk, a ritual and sacred dance performed by the young bachelor men of the village. The young men wear a full-body dress of dried banana leaves, a wig of the black fibre of the sugar palm and an ancient mask made traditionally from a coconut.
Barong Brutuk is performed every two years, during the Ngusaba Desa ceremony and the Odalan anniversary celebrations of the village temple, Pura Ratu Pancering Jagat, which falls in the fourth moon of the ancient Balinese calendar, Purnama Sasih Kapat.
Before the ceremonies the chosen men spend 42 days in quarantine in the village temple. During this period they are purified and prohibited from dealing with women, consume alcohol or gamble and learn ancient songs and mantras (Kidung) and prepare physically for the rituals.
The men collect banana leaves from the village of Pinggan and the dried banana leaves (keraras) are used for the costume of the Barong Brutuk. The dried leaves are knitted together with a banana tree rope and made into kind of skirts, which are then tied to a corset of banana leaves. The corset is worn around the neck and waist and underneath the men traditionally wear underwear from banana trees rope, although nowadays usually a sarong is used.
There are traditionally 21 masks, impersonating different ancient characters, including four nobles: a king, Rajah Brutuk, a queen, Ratu Brutuk, the sister of the queen, Kakak Sang Ratu, and a prime-minister, Patih, the older brother of the queen. The remaining characters are disciples, ordinary members serving the nobles.
The performance begins with the appearance of the Brutuk disciples, circling three times around the walls of the main temple. Spectators attempt to steal some leaves, while the Brutuk carry whips to beat off their ‘assailants’. The dried leaves are considered to bring fertility and a piece of leave is stored at home for protection. Later the dried leave is spread out in the rice fields when they begin to plant rice, hoping for an abundant harvest.
When the four Brutuk nobles appear on the scene a priest approaches them to present offerings, accompanied by salvation prayers for the people of Trunyan. The Brutuk nobles then also circle the temple three times and join the other Brutuk.
Elsewhere in the temple women and children offer fruit, sweet cakes and other offerings to the Brutuk. The Brutuk do not eat the offerings and some spectators call out to the Brutuk to swap the offerings for cigarettes. When they get close enough they then try to steal a leaf, as these are believed to be a lucky charm and aid fertility.
When the Brutuk receive offerings they are temporarily calm and use their whip to bless those making offer, with a small tap on their heads.
In the afternoon the Brutuk move to the lower compound of the temple and the performance slowly reaches its climax and the Brutuk start to swing their whips further and harder to the spectators.
The whip lashes are believed to give healing (tamba) to the sick. Some children call out and tempt the Brutuk to whip them: ”Ratu!! meriki Ratu!” (“Queen! Here, queen!”) or ”Malih Tu! Nunas Tamba, Tu!” (“Again, queen! Medicine, queen!”).
Only a few spectators actually get hit, others scramble after fruit and other offers that the Brutuk throw at them, as this is also believed to be a blessing and medicine.
Click the photos above for a larger view.
During the final sequence of rituals the Brutuk take turns and dance in pairs in the middle of the temple’s courtyard, closely observed by the other Brutuk and excited spectators. Each pair is mimicking the movements of a pair of wild jungle fowl, the cock courting the hen, and this love dance culminates in each pair throwing away their banana leaves dress. The king and queen Brutuk are last and when they finish their ritual courtship all young men run to the lake for a final cleansing and cooling plunge in lake Batur. The sacred masks are taken by the older tribesmen and will be stored in the inner temple for the next two years.
For my most favourite photos of the Barong Brutuk in Trunyan click HERE.