The Recent Ancient Tradition of Ogoh Ogoh

photo (24)

Bali is quiet today. It is Nyepi, the first day of the New Year, and it is a day of mandatory rest and meditation. We are not allowed outside our flat–if we are caught on the street we’ll be firmly escorted back inside. We must stay very quiet and not indulge in any way, or we’ll catch the attention of demons that are currently flying over Bali. If we are quiet enough they’ll shove on and not stop to wreak havoc. There are no flights in or out of Bali today. Silence.

photo (25)

Yesterday, however, was a glorious racket as Ogoh Ogoh were paraded down the street at sunset, twirled around and “confused” at intersections, then burned down at the seaside. Over the past week we’ve been peeping inside of temples to look at the in-progress Ogoh Ogoh as they were carefully built over metal frames. As we stood watching while the young single women of the neighborhood encircled the crossroads, holding torches toward the center, and the young single men of the neighborhood paraded into the center, playing drums and melodic reong–pot-shaped gongs, the ceremony felt timeless, foreign, yet had a spiritual resonance as well. It was invented in the 1980s.

I was ambivalent when I heard of the recent manufacture of the Ogoh Ogoh parade–it seemed typical of the kind of trap you can fall into with Orientalist thinking. Bali is so mystical, the people are so nice, they value spirituality, aren’t their ancient ceremonies so quaint and romantic?¬†Still, I love a good procession and it reminded me of the¬†Day of the Dead, another parade that celebrates the liminal and otherworldly.

photo (23)

The materiality of Ogoh Ogoh is interesting; though some Ogoh Ogoh are very small, they rapidly become very elaborate, with an emphasis on the grotesque. Many go to great lengths to make the Ogoh Ogoh appear to be flying, with very little attaching the demon to the underlying bamboo structure that young men use to carry it. There are lights installed to light up their faces, and some have heavy metal music blaring from their bases. Many Ogoh Ogoh have pendulous, veiny breasts representing Rangda the demon queen. Some are painted, some are meticulously airbrushed, and I have heard that some of them are sold instead of burned at the end of the night.

photo (22)

The Ogoh Ogoh and their young male handlers process to the beach, where they gleefully tear off the heads of their creations, then set fire to the demons that they carried through the streets. The Ogoh Ogoh were once made of paper mache, but now they are mostly polystyrene and the great gouts of black smoke made it impossible to breathe. The crowds dispersed before the fire had gone out.

photo (21)

And today, Bali is quiet.

An Interlude in Bali

photo (18)
Canangsari offerings, still intact.

There were a million Canangsari husks down at the beach last night, contents spilling out into tide pools, ruined flowers, smoldering incense, and candy wrappers blowing in the humid breeze. These offerings are everywhere, on bridges, at the openings of small roads, in front of businesses, always laden with colorful tidbits for hungry spirits. A woman in a small market staples the small woven trays together, dogs sniff out the better morsels, one skitters into the street after being accidentally kicked by a tourist. There were even more of them yesterday, after a pre-New Year cleansing ritual on the beach, stacks and stacks of offerings covering the black sand.

photo (20)The small flat we are renting is heaving with ants. An ant just climbed out from between the F and G keys on my computer and is scrambling toward the screen to meet with three others that are drawn to the glow. I don’t really mind, they’re tiny and they don’t bite, but I wish one of the geckos would eat them.

I’m in Bali to write–I’m putting together articles and catching up with work that was put aside while I was finishing the thesis. We go out to get fruit from the little market down the road and scoot to the beach to watch the sun go down.

photo (19)
Baskets covering Balinese fighting roosters, kept aggressive and ready.

The anthropological landscape of Bali is covered in large footprints, hidden deadfalls and the echos of heated argument in venerable academic halls. I sometimes want to go to the market and buy the canangsari to leave offerings to the hundreds (thousands?) of anthropologists who have studied here. Flowers for Clifford Geertz, Ritz crackers for Margaret Mead, betel nuts for Gregory Bateson. I’m a guest here, and I have my own research to write up, but it is hard to avoid a good haunting from the ghosts of anthropologists past (and present!).