Barong Blogging

A Barong – the mythical lion of Bali – landed in my lap. Literally, in my lap, like it was some kind of kitten. Barong are traditionally very large, brought to life by two dancers under a larger-than-life costume. I suppose that having one in my lap is always in the realm of possibility – given that it is Bali…

I was seated a comfortable distance from the dancing beast and shooting with a 50mm lens, with decent results.

But then, the big creature started getting closer and filling my viewfinder with even bigger eyes and lots of fuzzy stuff and it crossed my mind that he might actually get very close.

We were sitting on the ground, in a good place, at the front edge of the crowd. My friend Polly and I were the only non-Balinese at this 30-year temple festival outside of Penestanan. We were attracting some attention but nothing out of the ordinary. It had been a wonderful evening and the dance and music were having their usual hypnotic effect as the clock edged towards midnight. I was thinking about how I had only been in Bali for a few hours and was already transported to a different state of mind. I was joyfully clicking away, pondering the advance of the Barong and admiring its life-like movements. Then, plonk! There he was, right in my lap! This is the last (focused) shot I took before he landed gracefully, right on top of me.

No complaining here. I was very honored to be given some special attention by such a gorgeous creature. Women at my age are often invisible – but not to a Barong, I guess! I wasn’t quite sure what to do, so I gave it a little pat, as one might do with a feline creature, and glanced at the children beside me who were consumed by gales of laughter. Funny, foreign lady! Of course, I have no photos of the Barong in my lap. Just a memory of being part of a community chuckle. As the Barong was making his move to slide out of my lap, a hand was extended from behind the mask. “Pleased to meet you!” said the Barong to the Canadian lady. “Sama, sama” said the Canadian lady to the Barong. Connected.

Lap dancing aside, Barongs were an important element of the whole festival. Just an hour before the dance, I was admiring the old Barong masks and costumes on the altar inside the temple. They were way back inside and the space was small and dark and women kept walking in with offerings piled high on their heads. Everyone in the village seemed to need to spend a few respectful minutes with these fantastic spirit-imbued creatures, reflecting their level of importance in the temple ceremony. I have learned since that it is quite significant that this temple had four barong as they are critical to protecting the community.

Throughout the temple there were other Barong as well including this large Barong-shaped offering made of fruit and seeds with rice sheaths as the hair:

I realized that I know very little about what a Barong is, and especially what it symbolizes to your average Balinese; which is really what I should have known before I got there. So, the story of the Barong in My Lap goes further…

Late in the evening, when the Barong from the temple altar, were given life, paraded through the crowd, and worshiped by white-clad Balinese elders, I sensed that there was a Barong blog in our future and also that I really had a lot to learn.

Now back in KL, I have searched for some information to share here. It is great to share my photos of the Barong with you, but more importantly, I hope that the next time you or I have a Barong close at hand, we will understand more about what it all means.

I started doing some reading about Barong and realized that I was very unprepared for my visit to this temple celebration.  I had done no research on temple festivals prior to arriving in Bali and of course, my hosts (Balinese) did not understand that I did not understand when they so generously dropped me off at the gates to the festival.

We left this temple at midnight for logistical reasons and what I know now is that we missed out on a complete village-level performance of the Calonarong – a sacred reenactment of the epic battle between the Barong and Rangda who are complex symbols of good and evil.  The protective powers of the Calonarong performance is the premise for these temple festivals.  And we went home.  Oops.

So, I am reminded of why this blog exists.  I honestly believe that if you know more about what you are shooting, that your photographs will be better.  At least in terms of their ability to tell a story.  Through this blog, I want to share what I have learned in the hopes that when opportunity knocks, more of us know how to recognize it.  Of course, I am disappointed in myself for allowing logistics to take precedence over my love of cultural experiences.  On my first night in Bali, I did, but only know that in retrospect.   Not all is lost, however, and now, I see opportunity in the future.  The Calonarong will be performed in Bali again and another time, I may be there and better poised.  There can always be hope when armed with understanding.  I’m already better prepared for the next time that opportunity lands in my lap!

If you want to read more about Barong and Calonarong in preparation for YOUR next trip to Bali – try these links:

Dance and Drama in Bali by Walter Spies and Beryl de Zoete

A simple google search brings up a lot of information, so don’t go unprepared!