Join me in my wanderings around the globe via these online ramblings in far off places....

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Bali Revisited



bali title slide


One of my first blog posts, almost exactly one year ago, was about a weekend in Bali. I spend a lot of weekends in Bali, as Bali is a good hub point to access more remote parts of the Indonesian archipelago such as West Sumba where I have just returned from. Bali means many different things to many different people. The experienced traveller will often proclaim they avoid Bali. And for good reason, the tourist “traps” of Kuta, Legian, Tuban and Seminyak with row after row of pushy vendors (usually from other parts of Indonesia) selling the same old crap. Street after street of loud, drunken, obnoxious, (often) Australian tourists with the obligatory Bintang Singlet and a bottle of Bintang in their hand. Terrorist attacks on Kuta’s nightclub strip in 2002 and 2005 didn’t do the area’s reputation much good either. But a real traveller knows there much more to Bali then just Kuta and it’s dirty beaches and drunken night life. There is much more making up the rest of Bali that's worth exploring and the natural friendly helpful nature of the Balinese people only adds to the whole experience.


Bali Bombing Memorial by nightThe memorial to the lives lost during the 2002 Terrorist bombings in Bali


Kuta Corn VendorThe natural light combined from the glowing charcoal and the gas lantern caught my eye on this BBQ Corn vendors cart on Jalan Legian in downtown Kuta, for a photo without using a flash


Denpasar as the capital of Bali and the centre of commerce and industry falls outside of the general visitors path. Apart from maybe transiting through en route to Sanur or possibly Ubud the average western visitor spends little time in Denpasar. But there are hidden gems to be found for the astute traveller in Denpasar. One of them is the annual Denpasar Arts Festival, in it’s 33rd year this year in 2011. I was fortunate to attend the opening street parade. Very few other non-locals were there. The majority of cultural groups in the parade were from various parts of Bali. Their Hindu culture, a legacy of the days when Bali was part of the Majapahit-Hindu Kingdom from 1293 to the early 1500’s, dominated the parade. It’s interesting how the Indonesian Archipelago took on the later Islamic and Christian faiths whilst Bali remained true to their Hindu roots even to this day. Many of the Balinese groups were acting out or representing parts of traditional Hindu stories such as the Ramayana. There were also groups from elsewhere in Indonesia, two groups from Kalimantan on the island of Borneo were popular with the crowds.


CCdsc_0866Indonesian Police Women (POLDA-Bali) undertake crowd control during the parade in central Denpasar


Denpasar Arts Festival 2011the majority of cultural groups in the parade were from regions of Bali itself


Balinese culture groups “perform” for the crowd



Denpasar Arts Festival 2011

Denpasar Arts Festival 2011












Several culture groups from Kalimantan on the island of Borneo were present


Denpasar Arts Festival 2011Typical traditional headdress of a Balinese woman. Stunning.


Denpasar Arts Festival 2011Some of the younger participants didn’t seem so impressed…..


Denpasar Arts Festival 2011Many of the Balinese “characters” represent parts of the traditional Hindu writings


Denpasar Arts Festival 2011The former Dutch colonialists are often parodied in modern Indonesia as having particularly big noses! Even the large nosed Proboscis Monkey is known as the Dutch Monkey in Indonesia.


Balinese culture has always had a strong theatrical element, religious stories even today are acted out by theatrical troupes, often numbering into the hundreds, in elaborate costumes. More often than not today these events are staged for tourists. One of the most popular groups to appear in the parade was a team of two Balinese theatrical comedians. The crowd literally went wild as they made their way down the parade route. Hundreds took their turn to get their picture taken with them and get autographs from the pair.


Denpasar Arts Festival 2011

Denpasar Arts Festival 2011











Probably the most popular appearance during the parade were two famous Balinese comedians who were totally swamped by the crowd as they passed


The highlight for me was the Bali Brass Band, although I believe they use the name G.C.K. MBudayana,  as in Marching Band Udayana, from the Udayana University. These guys were awesome. Musically they were competent and their Balinese hybrid costumes just added to the whole experience. Their brass instruments have forward facing bells to project the sound, an American style so much more practical for street parades then the old fashioned upwards facing bells found in the average “behind-the-times” Australian Brass Bands. Another adoption from the US Brass Band style was a significant drum line and tonal bass drums. The old traditional brass bands had a single bass drummer, playing with one stick on one side of the drum only producing a dull thud. American Brass Bands several decades ago introduced a whole line up of different sized bass drums with the opposing sides tuned at different pitches so each bass drummer can produce two different sounds. A line up of say four bass drums can therefore produce eight different melodic sounds. It was great to see such a quality band from Bali, decades ahead of the average Australian Brass Band drearily marching is some Australian street parade.


Denpasar Arts Festival 2011Denpasar Arts Festival 2011











The Bali Brass Band was a highlight for me. Not only were they musically competent, they knew how to put on a show, complemented by traditional Balinese costumes and an awesome drum line.


MBudayana in the Denpasar Arts Festival Parade


MBudayana Brass Band Denpasar Arts FestivalThe MBudayana (Marching Band Udayana) use American style forward facing bells on their brass instruments


MBudayana Brass Band Denpasar Arts FestivalMBudayana had an awesome drum line with an effective tonal bass drum set up


MBudayana Brass Band Denpasar Arts FestivalAt one point in the parade the band dropped their instruments and started singing!


You don’t have to travel too far from the Kuta tourist strip to start finding the real Bali. The areas surrounding Denpasar and Kuta are filled with traditional villages, hundreds of Hindu temples and multitudes of rice fields. This trip I found myself in Bangli, central east Bali, really not that far from Denpasar and Kuta. There are none of the traditional tourist types attraction here, but for the smart traveller there is so much to see and do here. My niece just happened to be in Bali this weekend so we grabbed some mountain bikes and some local Bangli guides and went for a spin around. Lucky most of it was downhill, some of the uphills nearly killed me. I also learnt that taking photos with a DSLR while flying downhill at high speed on a bitumen road was not a good idea. Much to the combined amusement and concern of numerous villagers and passing truck and bus drivers, I fell off. Taking a significant chunk of flesh out of my leg in the process. Despite the momentary pain it was a great ride, with some of the best scenery in Bali.


Bangli, BaliIn the Kuta strip you see police carrying automatic weapons to counter the terrorist threat. Yet a short distance away villagers carry rifles to hunt for their dinner!


Bangli, BaliPloughing the rice fields, as seen while zooming past on my mountain bike…


Bangli, BaliGreat reflections in the rice fields while cycling past


CCdsc_0162A giant effigy of Hanuman in a small shelter beside a rice field near Bangli


CCdsc_0163the ubiquitous Balinese Rice Field


wwdsc_0123My niece and a local guide cycling through Bangli


p6130270the end result of taking photos whilst riding down hill at high speeds….

So don’t let anyone tell you Bali is just for drunken Australian yobos. There’s so much more to Bali, you just need to be smart enough to look beyond the tourist strip to find it…….


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So you want to go to Bali?

  • Compared to most places I write about you will have no problems getting to Bali. The main airport, Ngurah Rai, is serviced by multiple airlines direct from numerous international ports or via Jakarta. From Bali dozens of carriers service other parts of Indonesia.
  • To then make the most of Bali you need to get away from the Kuta/Seminyak beach scene and discover the real Bali………



Bangli, Bali




Tuesday, 14 June 2011

In the Beginning… year on



blogger one year title slide


Hard to believe but it’s been one year since I started this blog.

Why I started this blog and why I continue to write this blog I can’t really explain, god knows I hardly have time to keep it updated!

However I have managed to make at least one or two posts a month and readership has steadily increased.

Today the blog is averaging about 20 new hits a week, mostly coming from Google searches.

There are about a dozen regular readers who keep coming back to read more!

Overall in a year there’s been about 1700 unique hits and 6000 odd page loads.

Most visitors come from the US, with Australia second and a lot of hits from South East Asia, most likely as the majority of posts are from/about places in South East Asia.

The number one page hit is the Savu Sawu Sabu page, my second post, most likely because there is so little information about Savu out there. The blog is often rated number one in Google for searches on “Savu”.

The blog has also rated top in Google searches for such obscure searches as “Vietnam Mafia” and more regular searches such as “Coron Palawan”.

Each post averages 6 Facebook “likes”

Given that I can’t really explain what I wanted to achieve from the blog, I guess it’s all good…..

Lets see if I can keep it up to the second birthday in June 2012!

Monday, 13 June 2011

Pasola: Horseback fighting of West Sumba

West Sumba Title Slide

On the western side of Indonesia’s remote island of Sumba, the local people practice the annual ritual of Pasola. Men, usually from opposing clan groups mount their horses armed with wooden spears to do combat with each other. Once a year this ritual takes place, with the blood spilt symbolising the fertilising of the soil prior to the planting season beginning in earnest. Pasola is often described as a game, but it is much more than a game. When the ritual is performed for real, blood will still be drawn. However these days Pasola will be “performed” for visiting travellers on certain occasions. During these events banana leaf stems will be used as substitute spears. Even in the “real” Pasola today the wooden spears do not have the sharpened tip of old to limit the damage.

Pasola Demonstration; traditional horseback fighting of West Sumba Pasola: the unique ritual of West Sumba

Pasola Demonstration; traditional horseback fighting of West Sumba
 A young boy practices for Pasola

A Pasola Demonstration near Bondokodi

Pasola Demonstration; traditional horseback fighting of West Sumba
A village man “spears” a younger boy from the opposing clan with the banana leaf spear. Had this been the “real” Pasola there would have been blood……

Pasola Demonstration; traditional horseback fighting of West Sumba
A young boy lets his imitation banana leaf spear fly during a Pasola re-enactment 

Pasola Tattoos on her handsA Sumbanese woman has tattoos of Pasola on her hands

Before the ritual Pasola begins, the local priests will sacrifice animals, usually chickens, but sometimes cattle. In fact most major events in Sumba “require” the sacrifice of animals. The traditional animistic religious beliefs of Sumba are still incredibly strong, possible the strongest area of modern Indonesia when it comes to traditional beliefs. The animistic traditions are referred to as Marapu. Like many animistic religions Marapu revolves around ancestor worship and ancestor placation, usually through sacrifice. The word Marapu, within the Marapu faith, has several different related meanings
  1. The occupants of the eternal heaven, who lead a similar existence to earthbound mankind. They live in couples and one of these couples is the ancestor of all the Sumbanese.
  2. The spirits of the Sumbanese ancestors in Prai Marupu (Heaven).
  3. The spirits of their relatives.
  4. All spirits dwelling the universe.
Marapu has mysterious and magical authority over human life. In honour of Marapu, the Sumbanese will put effigies, called Marapu statues, on stone altars where they lay their offerings in the forms of Sirih Pinang (a dish containing betel leaves, nuts and lime) and sacrificial cattle. The statues of Marapu are made of wood in the shape of human faces. These images are usually placed in the yard of their houses or inside the traditional houses high up near the roof, to be closer to heaven.

Marapu, Ancestral Worship items, Pero Beach, West Sumba
 Marapu effigies outside a house in Pero Beach, West Sumba

My MarapuMy own personal Marapu effigies I have been given on different visits to Sumba. The one on the right is a Marapu face carved in stone, the one on the left is a natural rock formation believed to show a face. Both have their own pandanus woven carry case.

The majority of Sumbanese still follow the Marapu beliefs, however under the “official” Indonesian system, Marapu is not recognised as a religion. Only Islam,
Christianity, Hindu and Buddhism are recognised as official religions in Indonesia. For this reason many Sumbanese now “officially” identify themselves as Christian whilst still embracing many of the aspects of Marapu. For example one belief in Marapu is the burial of deceased family members in stone tombs (although today they may be made of concrete). Today many Sumbanese identifying as Christian will still follow Marapu burial traditions even if the ceremony is presided over by Christian priests. The megalithic tombs of Sumba date back centuries and together with some other parts of Indonesia (Nias and Toraja for example) make up the only living megalithic cultures of modern time.

Ratenggaro Village, West Sumba
 Scattered rubble from old megalithic tombs surrounds new concrete style tombs in the village of Ratenggaro

n522021117_689886_8997Megalith Tombs are common across all of Sumba, here these stone tombs sit in the middle of Prai Natang Village, East Sumba

The houses of Sumba are probably what stand out the most. The design is common across the island however in the west the houses are much higher. Uma Mbatangu, literally “big house” have a dramatic, abruptly rising thatched tower. Like many Austronesian cultures the village is officially regarded as a ship. The general village lay out is considered to be a ship with two rows of houses and the megalithic tombs in the middle. The four points of the houses are considered to be the four points of the compass. The houses themselves have a set layout with a lower area for livestock, a veranda type area for meeting visitors, a central living area and a raised area in the “tower” to house the Marapu items of the family and keep them close to “heaven”.

Traditional Village near Bondokodi, West Sumba, Indonesia
 The typical style of Sumba house

Traditional Village near Bondokodi, West Sumba, Indonesia
General layout style of a Sumba Village

asdsc_0752the roof tops of Wainyapu Village tower above the tree line in West Sumba

Sumba, like much of this region was once a part of the Hindu Majapahit Kingdom. And whilst the people of Sumba kept their animistic Marapu religious beliefs in preference to adopting Hindu beliefs, as they did with later influences of Islam and Christianity, many other aspects of Sumbanese life including genetics, dance, music and dress, were influenced by the early Hindu Kingdom.

Traditional Sumba Music in Bondokodi, West Sumba

Traditional Sumba Dancing in Bondokodi, West Sumba

n522021117_689845_7074Sumba men generally still wear traditional clothing with woven Ikat and nearly always carry a Kris or Knife

asdsc_0740A village man from Ratenggaro Village shows his Kris with Pasola themed carved handle

West Sumba has huge potential for travellers and tourism as long as they hold on to this amazing culture. The wide range of accommodation available and regular flights together with government support will encourage to grow tourism. If you can get there during Pasola or a Pasola re-enactment, it’s certainly worth the effort.

Pasola Demonstration; traditional horseback fighting of West Sumba

West Sumba Slideshow

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So you want to go to West Sumba?
  • With the development of tourism throughout Sumba, supported by various levels of government, Sumba is relatively easy to get to
  • The main air entry point to West Sumba is via the town of Tambulaka also spelt Tambolaka. Trans Nusa Air currently flies to Tambolaka.
  • There are numerous accommodation places. Tambolaka has the standard style of Indonesian Hotel found in just about any Indonesian town. There are also several “resorts” of varying styles. The Newa Sumba Resort is a simple Indonesian style resort with good service but still relatively simple. The Nihawatu Resort is a much higher international standard and very elegant. Mona Lisa Cottages in Waikabubak is another good option but a long way from the usual locations for Pasola.
  • You can also enter from East Sumba (Waingapu) and drive across the island
  • As well as flights there are several ferry services, ferries from Flores and Sumbawa berth at Waikelo, near Tambolaka.
  • There are many tour agents and tour operators in a position to offer Sumba arrangements and packages. Sumba Adventure Tours stands out as one of the best. Ph. +62 81 337 107 845 Mr Philip.

West Sumba

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