Precious moments: Photographers surround the site where Tenganan girls play on traditional swings as part of Ngusaba Sambah, a major religious festival for the village. The ritualistic battle is part of this festival.
Twenty-one-year-old Komang Satya displayed his bravery as he stroked a bundle of pandanus leaves along with his enemy in a centuries-old pandanus battle ritual, locally known as Mekare-kare, during a special ceremony of the Tenganan Pegringsingan indigenous community in Karangasem, East Bali, last Friday.
Armed with a long and thorny pandanus leaf in his right hand and a rattan shield in his left, Satya looked fearless despite apparent wounds on his neck and back.
“I’m not afraid. This battle is only a game,” said the Japanese Language major at Saraswati University in Denpasar, who started battling when he was 12 years old.
“The wounds are painful, but they don’t compare with the excitement of this battle,” he added.
Dozens of Tenganan youth fought a one-and-a-half-hour battle in front of the Bale Petemon, a meeting place for Tenganan youth. Mekare-kare is an annual ritualistic battle of Tenganan village.
“The battle is our way to respect our ancestors,” Satya said.
Tenganan Pegringsingan, which is located 70 kilometers east of Denpasar, is an ancient village home to Bali Aga, a term generally used to refer to indigenous Balinese although it literally means the mountain people of Bali.
Tenganan Pegringsingan’s Bali Aga hold rituals and have religious beliefs that differ from the majority of Balinese. While the large majority of Balinese follow the Trimurti concept of Hinduism, with its three main Gods, Brahma the Creator, Wisnu the Sustainer and Siwa the Destroyer, cultural artifacts suggest that the people of Tenganan are the last remaining worshippers of Indra, the lord of the sky and thunder in the Hindu pantheon.
The village is also one of the island’s main tourist attractions, where visitors can observe how villagers weave the rare double-bundles of traditional cloth called geringsing.
Prominent Tenganan Pegringsingan village figure Mangku Widia said that Mekare-kare is held twice every year during the Usaba Sambah ceremony, which is an annual ceremony to honor Indra.
“We believe the battle has to be performed every year. We never ignore the ritual,” Mangku Widia said.
After the battle, no participants have ever taken any revenge for the wounds they receive. “The battle is just a game. Everybody understands it well,” he said.