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The noisy young demons of Tegalalang GIANYAR - The quiet of the afternoon was shattered when hundreds of children stormed out of the majestic gates of Duur Bingin Temple into the streets of Tegalalang village. In terms of sheer volume, five children are enough to outscream an entire supermarket floor filled with busy adults. Imagine what an uproar a group of some 700 children can make in a quiet village!

Dressed in traditional clothes, all the children, mostly boys three to 16 years of age, had painted their faces and bodies with a variety of terrifying images and patterns. Dark black and blood red were the prevailing colors, while skulls and fangs were the favorite images. Each carried a slender staff made from the trunk of the zalacca palm, decorated with colorful flowers and young coconut leaves.

"The staff is a sacred object. Once an adult villager broke a staff and a few days later a bad car accident left him crippled him," a village elder said. The large gathering moved slowly and noisily along the streets that encircle the village. The boys yelled and shouted at each other, or tried in vain to scare away the adult spectators. The spectators, mostly the boys' parents, lined the streets, providing the parade with equally loud moral support.

At several temples the children made brief stops, during which they humbly bowed their heads in silent prayer. The procession ended about two hours later in the outer yard of the Duur Bingin Temple. Known as Ngerebeg, this loud parade of child "demons" was an integral part of the Pujawali (anniversary ceremony) of the Duur Bingin Temple.

The temple, which was built during the reign of Tjokorda Ketut Segara in the 15th century, is the spiritual anchor of Tegalalang village, some 40 kilometers east of Denpasar, Bali. "The temple is dedicated to Dewi Sri, the Goddess of Fertility. The Goddess has protected us and our rice fields from various plagues and disasters in the past," stated the bendesa (chief) of the customary village of Tegalalang, Wayan Mupu.

"That's why the Pujawali of the temple is one of our most important religious festivals," he added. The Pujawali has always commenced with the Ngerebeg parade. "During the Ngerebeg, the participating children are actually performing the roles of the panjak hana-tan hana," said Mupu.

Panjak hana-tan hana is a generic name for various beings that exist beyond the grasp of people's sensory perception. The members of this invisible group range from the generally benign Bhuta Kala (spirits of Nature) and the unpredictable Wong Samar (human-like residents of isolated gorges and deep jungles), to menacing demons. "Purification of the village is the primary function of Ngerebeg. Through the noisy parade of scary-looking children we entertain and pacify the invisible beings so they will not disrupt the upcoming Pujawali ceremony," Mupu said.

Yet, for the participants, the ritual was a source of hilarity for a different reason; it gave them a rare opportunity to express their wild sides. "On any other day, my parents would surely freak out if they saw me hobble away with two large fangs coming from my mouth and my hair sprayed bright red," said Putu Widya, one of the participants. "For Ngerebeg, they encouraged me to wear fangs and shout as loudly as I could. It's a great ritual for teenagers," he added, with a big grin splashed across his face.

Parents of the participating boys did not really have much option but to encourage their children to dress and act wildly. Tradition dictates that freakish cosmetics and a noisy parade are two indispensable elements of the ritual. That they were supposed to dress like traditional Balinese demons did not prevent the boys from delving into modern themes. "After all, demons also exist in modern times," a boy said wisely.

His body and face were decorated with intertwined web-like patterns in black and red, which had the effect of transforming him into a Balinese version of Spiderman. The fact that Spiderman was not a demon did not seem to bother him at all. A few meters behind, another boy grabbed the spectators' attention by dressing up as a livid rocker. Fake earrings, a scary tattoo and a very bad, albeit unnatural, "attitude" left the audience screaming for more. "It's all right as long as they do not wear a costume of a handsome prince or an illuminating sage. Scary and noisy are what Ngerebeg is all about," village elder I Ketut Suweta said.

Posted in Culture @ 19 January 2006 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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