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Jakarta Post

The unique rituals of an ancient village

  • Trisha Sertori

    The Jakarta Post

Bangli   /   Thu, January 14, 2016   /  04:29 pm
The unique rituals of an ancient village

Strange fruit: Fruit of the bukak tree and its sap are believed to absorb the smell of putrefaction from placentas hung in boughs.

Nestled on the slopes of Kintamani in the shadows of Mount Agung is the small village of Bayung Gede. Encircled by cloud and jungles, the village dates back over a dozen centuries and has carried through the ages the traditions established by its founders.

Believed to be the first village of the Bali Mula, the earliest inhabitants of the island, Bayung Gede remains a calm oasis in the rapidly changing province.

Wiry and fit with flowing white hair, village head Jero Kubayan Mucuk tells the tale of the old ones who came searching through Bali'€™s wild jungles and discovered this fertile tract of land '€” the ideal place for a village.

'€œThe founder was Ida Dukuh Lingsir who came with 11 followers. They were all strong, hence the name Bayung Gede, which means great strength. We don'€™t know where the 11 came from, but we know Ida Dukuh Lingsir achieved moksa; there was no body when he died, he was just gone,'€ says Jero, whose family has lived in the village for many centuries. Moksa is the release of a soul from the cycle of rebirth under Hindu beliefs.

Protected by a '€œliving fence'€ of bamboo, the people of Bayung Gede remained for a thousand years undisturbed, their rituals unchanged.

'€œThere in the past we were surrounded by a dense bamboo living fence. Others could not enter the village so we remained true to our rites,'€ says Jero.

Among those rites is the ari-ari ritual for the placenta of newborn babies. At the southernmost point of the village a great garden of bukak trees is the placenta burial site. Washed in perfumed waters and flowers, placentas are placed in coconut shells and hung from the bukak tree.

'€œMany people come here to see the ari-ari that are unique to Bayung Gede. In Trunyan [village] bodies of the dead are laid on the ground unburied, here it is the placenta that is unburied. This is the only village in Indonesia that does this,'€ says Jero.

Taking the placenta away, rather than burying it in home gardens, means every home in Bayung Gede remains holy.

'€œBecause we do this, the holy men of the village can enter any home without needing cleansing ceremonies. Placentas are unclean because they are mixed with blood,'€ says Jero, adding when placentas are hung in the bukak tree, the bough is cut to release the tree'€™s viscous sap that is believed to absorb the smell of putrefaction.

The funeral rituals of Bayung Gede are also unique to the mountainside village among Balinese customs.

'€œWe do not dig up the bodies of our dead for cremation. That is done in the south by Balinese who were influenced by the Majapahit in ancient times. Here the souls of our dead are sent to the heavens on the smoke of burning cattle,'€ says Jero explaining that a cow is symbolically burnt when females die and bulls are burnt for males. The cooked meat is then shared among family and friends after the ceremony.

Where time stands still: Bali'€™s oldest Bali Mula village holds fast to its unique traditions and rituals.Where time stands still: Bali'€™s oldest Bali Mula village holds fast to its unique traditions and rituals.

Jero points out that the Bali Aga, another ancient Balinese society, follows the Majapahit funeral rituals of sarcophagi cremations more closely.

'€œThe Bali Aga are different to the Bali Mula. The Bali Aga are more modern, more influenced by the Majapahit. The Bali Mula are almost uninfluenced by that,'€ says Jero looking out at the jungles that surround his village.

These jungles are the holy places of Bayung Gede'€™s inhabitants. '€œIn Bayung Gede we have many temples called Pura Mertiwi. These are sacred places in our jungles. Pura dalam down south are great buildings and temples but here the temple is our jungle, which we see as holy. This is the original temple,'€ says Jero pointing out this adheres closely to the Balinese Hindu philosophy of Tri Hita Karana, people'€™s relationship to the Earth, mankind and the gods.

'€œWe pray to the great ancient trees. To us these are the temples of Pura Mertiwi,'€ says Jero.

Strolling the north-south running streets of Bayung Gede, home to more than 2,000 people, visitors notice the sense of calm and quiet that pervades. Homes are closed off from the street by mud brick fences that have lasted for longer than anyone can remember, the streets are clean swept and dogs are noticeably absent.

Like later Bali Mula villages such as Penglipuran, the roofs of homes in Bayung Gede are made of interwoven bamboo tiles and it is perhaps this symbol that best sums up the village. When new roofs are needed families and friends come together in gotong royong, or shared work, to raise a new roof.

'€œGotong royong is still strong. If we need to build everyone comes together. We serve a special dish of jajan lukas, made from sticky black rice. This symbolizes that the roof will be strong and stick long to the house,'€ says Jero, head of the peaceful village that itself has stuck well to its traditions.

Classic architecture: Bayung Gede village head Jero Kubayan Mucuk says the roofs of homes in his village are symbols of cooperation.Classic architecture: Bayung Gede village head Jero Kubayan Mucuk says the roofs of homes in his village are symbols of cooperation.

'€” Photos by J.B.Djwan

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