Anton Muhajir, Contributor, Tenganan | Thu, 06/18/2009 1:19 PM | Surfing Bali
With a tiny safety pin, 13-year-old Kadek Juliantara picked the sharp thorns out of the scratches carved into the shoulder of his best friend, 12-year-old Kadek Anjasmara. He did it with carefully, gently, so as not to cause any pain.
Yet these same wounds were inflicted by none other than Juliantara himself during the Perang Pandan battle held earlier in the morning. As always, best friends Juliantara and Anjasmara took opposite sides in the annual event.
As Juliantara carefully cleaned Anjasmara’s wounds, the other Tenganan youths gathered nearby amused themselves by teasing 8-year-old Bagus Saptana. Saptana looked a bit nervous: It would be his first time participating in the fight, known locally as mageret pandan or makare-kare. Naturally, the prospect of hurting his opponent or being hurt had shaken the boy up a little bit. And the older kids weren’t going to miss a chance to frighten the boy a bit more.
“Hey, are you ready to get hurt? Ready to have those thorns piercing your skins,” a teenager taunted him.
Saptana grinned at the older boys before giving his honest answer. “Well, I am a bit afraid,” he said.
For the fight, the boys don simple traditional attire – sarong, saput sash and udeng headgear, leaving their upper body bare.
The main weapon used in the battle is a club about 15 centimeters long made by tying together 10 to 15 pandan (Pandanus amaryllifolius) leaves, which are edged by tiny, sharp thorns.
Perang Pandan is the unique tradition of the residents of Tenganan village in Karangasem regency, about 70 kilometers east of Denpasar. Tenganan is one of the few surviving Bali Aga (which literally means “mountainous Bali”) villages. Residents of these villages, including Trunyan in Bangli and Sembiran in Buleleng, pride themselves as the original Balinese, who possess a different set of cultural practices, belief systems and social norms to the rest of the Balinese living in low-lying regions.
Where the belief system of other Balinese focuses on the Hindu Trinity of Brahma the Creator, Wisnu the Sustainer and Siwa the Destroyer, the people of Tenganan worship Indra as their ultimate godhead. In ancient Vedic scriptures, Indra is known as the patron god of warriors, the God of War with the terrifying title of “He who lays waste to fortified walls”.
No wonder, then, that many major religious festivals in Tenganan involve a ritualistic battle, including the mesabatan biu (banana war) to celebrate the election of the chief of a village’s youth organization and the mud war to acknowledge a village member’s entrance into adulthood.
“For us, the ritualistic battle is a way to pay our respects to our ancestors,” said one Tenganan community leader I Nyoman Sadra.
The ancestors of Tenganan people are known as the Wong Paneges, a small group of brave warriors. Legend has it that Indra was so proud of the courage displayed by the Wong Paneges that he gave them a plot of land on the slope of a hill overlooking a blue ocean, upon which they built the village later known as Tenganan.
In the past, Perang Pandan was a strictly sacred ritual that no outsider was allowed to watch. With the advent of tourism in 1930s, the Tenganan people began treating the battle as a major tourist attraction, to the extent that outsiders may even take part.
For the men of Tenganan, Perang Pandan is compulsory. The adults view the battle as a way to pay tribute to their ancestors while the children treat it as a way to test their courage. Children as young as seven have participated.
At around 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the local musicians began sounding the gamelan in the village’s meeting pavilion, Bale Petemu, signaling the start of another session.
Juliantara and Anjasmara walked into the battle arena to the encouraging cheers of their friends. Both carried pandan clubs and shields made of woven ata leaves.
At the judge’s signal, the young warriors began to battle. They circled each other, shields at the ready, looking for an opening. Young as they are, the boys quickly lost patience, any battle strategy quickly replaced by a frontal attack of brute force. They locked each other in a powerful embrace, their clubs drawing blood from each other’s bodies. The battle ended when the judge separated them.
“Before the battle begins I always have a sense of fear inside my heart. Yet, the moment the gamelan starts that fear simply evaporates and I suddenly feel excited and courageous,” Juliantara said.
As the sun sank into the horizon, the youths of Tenganan left the arena, parading their wounds on their way home.
“The blood we give today is our tribute for our ancestors, the brave warriors of Wong Paneges,” Juliantara said. [#]