In 2015, I went to Terunyan Village in the Batur region to check out a rare temple ceremony that is normally only held every 15 years. My main motivation was not the ceremony itself but the fact that there was going to be a performance of rare gamelan selonding music by one of the oldest sets of this type in Bali.
I knew that this orchestra also accompanied a dance by Bali’s rarest – and quite possibly weirdest – type of barong, called Barong Berutuk. Before I left for the ceremony I had only ever seen hazy black and white photos and a colour sketch of the creature. I knew that unlike ‘modern barong’ – of which there are more than 16 different types – their human-like form was covered in dried banana leaves. A barong berutuk wears a mask and carries a whip that is made of a banana tree stem. I had also learnt that there were actually 21 barong berutuk, each donning a different mask. Their overall appearance is primitive and reminds one of dancers and masks from Irian Jaya, Papua New Guinea or Africa.
My extended Balinese family had never been to Terunyan either and were excited about hearing the selonding and seeing the barong berutuk, as well, of course of visiting a village so famous in Bali for its isolation and pre-Hindu animist rituals (such as not burying their dead but leaving them to rot under a fragrant tree).
Upon arrival, we were in for a surprise. First of all, we found out that the sacred selonding had already played several days earlier (it is only played when someone goes into trance and asks for the barong to be danced). Second, the barong were not dancing, but rather ‘prancing’ around the temple courtyard rather aggressively trying to whip anyone in sight. Strangely enough, some locals were asking to be whipped. Why was this and what is the function and origin of these bizarre creatures? Read my other article about Barong Berutuk.
© 2016 Vaughan Hatch