The island of Bali half a century ago: the Barong dance

A traditional religious dance in the setting of the Batur volcano

by Roberto Poeti
Barong dance in a remote Bali village

A trip made to Indonesia also took us to the island of Bali. It was 1980, about forty years have passed. Western tourists were rare.  The only presences were those of many young Australians who filled the town Kuta to ride the waves. They remained there, attracted only by the motion of the waves.  For the rest the island was still in the hands of the Balinese. So, we rented a moped and for a week we crossed the island far and wide. Among the casual encounters we had was a religious ceremony that involved a whole village at the foot of the Batur volcano.

The arrow indicates the location of the village at the foot of Lake Batur

It was a Barong dance, which represents the eternal battle between good and evil, and is a traditional Balinese sacred dance, widespread and practiced throughout Indonesia. It is probably the most popular Balinese representation. The dramatic event represented in the course of the dance is the representation of the struggle between Barong (monstrous god-animal symbol of Good and Fertility) and Rangda (a witch symbol of Evil).  The dance ends with the final battle between Barong and Rangda, ending with Barong’s victory over Rangda. Rangda flees, evil is defeated, and heavenly order is restored.

A strange animation of the village

The village at the foot of Mount Batur overlooks the lake of the same name.

The village at the foot of Mount Batur overlooks the lake of the same name.

We were attracted by the animation of the locals who in the early afternoon moved in the direction of a temple. A procession of women with baskets full of fruit and flowers hovering over their heads entered a large clearing of the temple.

The women of the village bring baskets of flowers and fruit into balance in their heads

On earth a colorful carpet of offerings had formed.  Meanwhile, a band of musicians had taken their seats on one side of the square.

The band of musicians who accompany the dances during the ceremony

When slowly the people took their seats, the Barong dance began, which is told with the movements of the dancers dancing to the sound of the drums.

Start the dance accompanied by the sound of the musicians

Towards sunset the Barong mask appears, depicted as a lion with a red head, covered with thick white fur, and wearing golden jewelry adorned with pieces of mirrors. Two men hidden under his fur form his four legs and shake the beast with convulsive and rapid movements.

The Barong Mask is starting the fight

We followed the ceremony the whole time until night.  We were the only ones and we felt a bit like intruders. I propose again the images of the ceremony hoping that a little ‘return the atmosphere of celebration and authentic sacredness. These are moments that are no longer repeatable. Mass tourism has deformed culture and traditions.

Images of the Barong dance in the village


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