Usabah Sambah, Preserving an Ancestral Ritual
A unique community exists in the small village of Tenganan in Bali. Known as “Bali Aga“, meaning the true Bali, they are believed to be the indigineous tribe of the island and have existed long before the waves of migration of Java. Traditions are very old and are not so restricted to influences brought by Javanese migrants. Distinctive, to say the least.
Every year in the 11th month on the Balinese calendar or the fifth month according to the Bali Aga’s ancient calendar, the people of Tenganan conduct an ancestral ritual that lasts a whole month, the Usaba Sambah ceremony. Intended as a month-long process of rebalancing all life elements and experiences from the passing year, the ceremony consists of a series of smaller rites that involve various components of the community from spiritual leaders to old men and young men to women and even children. It as a practice observed by the entire population of Tenganan in great joy.
The ritual started with a procession to the temple obeserved by all villagers wearing beautiful woven fabric known as ‘grinsing‘. After a solemn prayer and a series of offerings made in the temple, the Pandan War commenced as a tribute to honor the ancestors also the god of war, Indra. A pair of young men began to fight, aiming a precise rip at each others’s body with the Pandan leaves while truing to protect themselves with the rattan shields. A referee timed the fight and ensured that each only lasted for about one minute or until one of they young men had enough and surrendered, whichever happened first. Then the next pair of fighters had their turn and so on for the next three hours.
Usaba Sumbah is also celebrated by the young women of the village in a special rite called ‘ayunan’ , which also serves as the perfect moment for these young ladies to show off their beauty and declare their womanhood. Wearing their best dresses and jewelries. Although it looks deceptively simple and even childish, the Ayunan tradition carries a deep philosophical meaning. “It is a vehicle to learn about life”, a village elder explained. “Life is like sitting on a swing, sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down. It makes you excited and nervous at the same time, yet you try to go through it in your best demeanor”