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Food for the Gods

Mosaic, Metis and other reputed Balinese restaurant might sell food of international standards; their diners might be local and international celebrities, ministers, singers and football players, but by Balinese standards, believe me, those restaurants are banal. They serve food to humans.

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To the Balinese indeed, the best food is not sold to humans, it is instead offered to the Gods. Forget the Balinese lawar, sambal Bali spices and babi guling (suckling pig) - the best of the best in the island, is not for you or me, but for visitors from the invisible world: gods and ancestors; as for the “worst” of the worse, put on the ground, it is symbolically “eaten” by the buta (earthly, “demonic” forces).

woman balinese offering food to gods

All this is not because humans are less demanding than Gods, but simply because they cannot be separated from their two partners. Each occupies its own “department” in a tripartite world – Bhur/Bhwah/Swah. And each accordingly must get his/her own share of attention — including his/her own “eating” quarter.

Thus the restaurant is indeed the eating place for humans, but if you pay attention, you will notice that each restaurant has in its kaja kangin (eastward-mountainward) corner a small plankiran shrine in which offerings are addressed to deities. Because it would be improper for humans to eat there while neglecting their duties toward deities. Similarly, the owner of the restaurant, if Balinese, will never forget to put small jotan offerings on the ground as food for the earthly forces.

But the best food to the Gods is usually provided in the God's restaurants: temples. Welcoming them during temple festivals is, like humans, providing them with the best food and the best dances. This food is is commonly called offerings.

sesajen baliThe most fantastic is the Sarad cake, symbolizing the world: The “Sarad” is made of glucous rice coloured with natural dyes. Its components may change, but its basic structure and symbolism remains constant. It represents the abode of the Gods, the Meru. This Meru is that of the mythical times of the churning of the Milken Ocean, when Gods and demons, each pulling at one extremity of the cosmic dragon, used here as a rope, churned the mountain standing in the middle of the sea of milk. From that churning sprouted the elixir of immortality.

In the cake, one always can see, supporting the “mountain” and its Gods, the cosmic tortoise, Bedawang Nala, entwined by the dragons and waiting to be churned by them. Above them are usually the three Gods of the Hindu Trinity: Brahma is red; Wisnu is black and Iswara is yellow.

Then is Bhoma, Wisnu’s son from his rape of the earth goddess Pertiwi and symbol of the vegetation; above Bhoma is often the Garuda bird, which killed the dragons and found the elixir of immortality. Above the Garuda is the goose, an animal which feeds in the mud, and is able to separate food from waste. At the uppermost level are Sanghyang Tunggal “the One God” Himself and the Ultimate Atintya. Sometimes, the Meru is made not from glutous rice, but shaped from pork kebabs and meat. Beware, though, even the pork is not edible.

Yet, in temples, humans get food as well: offerings. These are first taken - usually by women and sometimes in procession - to the temple for a night or a few hours, during which they are symbolically blessed by the presence of the visiting Gods and ancestors to which they are addressed. It is after they are taken back home that they may be shared by family members and friends – albeit never friends from a higher caste.

balinese geboganThe most fantastic of those food offerings are the “gebogans” – immortalised, time and again, by photographs representing a long, colorful line of women, dressed in their best apparel, looking straight ahead, uptight, each carrying a big offering of fruits and cakes. As all offerings, the gebogans are laden with symbolism. Their shape, long and “conical” with a round top, evokes the phallic symbol of Siwa, as well as the related cosmic mountain. But their components too – fruits, cake, flowers, meat – are each related to gods and cosmic functions. More: on top of the gebogan itself are other offerings that also carry each a cosmic signification: a round-shaped sampiang, symbol of the pangider-ider (Balinese “rose of the wind”) ; and above the sampian, a small canang offering, a symbol, by its colors, of the rose of the wind too, and, by its porosan (heart), of the Trimurti (Gods) Brahma, Wisnu, Iswara.

All this, and more, is probably why Balinese food is undoubtedly the most fantastic in the world. If it is not rated five star, it is not the Balinese’s fault. It is because some Westerners don’t understand anything about symbols, or know that Gods, ancestors and even demons have to be fed, and thus respected. And never photographed.

Visitors should know that whatever you may have heard from your friends, and whatever you may read in this magazine, the food you eat in restaurants in Bali, even in many so - called ‘Balinese’ restaurants, is almost NEVER Balinese.

Nasi goreng is not Balinese, nor is mie goreng. What you deem ‘Balinese’ is generally Javanese, or Chinese, and the “great local food” you eat in restaurants is never local. It is adapted to be softer to the tourist’s tastes. It is a sign of the day. Balinese culture, down to its food – not to mention its arts and music – is more and more tailored to suit tourist's expectations; the iconic expectations of a pristine, yet modern Bali. Ponder this over, that there is still, in the villages of Bali, another surviving logic, one that still gives the priority to gods and ancestors.

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ARAK Attack

arak bali
Arakthat much maligned and much loved beverage from the east of Bali- comes from humble beginnings as do many good things.

Every country has some kind of homemade firewater. Scotland has its whiskies which have gained international repute, Nepal has its Rakshi, India has its feni, Thailand has its Mekong, the Caribbean has its cane spirits, Kentucky has its bourbon and Europe has too many to mention, each county or province producing its own wickedly alcoholic versions, and Bali is no exception with its Arak.

arak baliEven all the famous stills in Scotland and Kentucky started off as little more than backyard operations. Some were better than others and some got lucky and today they are internationally accepted by steady drinkers and connoisseurs alike.

In Bali, the fight for legitmacy and acceptance continues. Some factories are producing legal arak, which can be found in supermarkets, bars and shops all over the south. Unfortunately the legal arak comes from the coconut palm and is a vastly inferior product to those that are produced from the ental (lontar) or jaka palms and even from cashew fruit. Where the coconut variety does little more than make you tipsy at best, or normally just puts you to sleep.

balinese drunkThe better quality araks make you want to get up and dance, laugh, have a good time. Your blood starts rushing faster, and feelings of good will to all can overcome you. Arak can fuel all night temple entertainments, rituals and of course that other grand Karengasem musical tradition of genjek, which gets better as the arak flows longer. It is good stuff, and if it could be legitimised and even promoted, the world would be a better place.

The basic material is tuak, collected in the morning and evening from the bruised fruit of the palms. The already alcoholic liquid can be drunk immediately or left to ferment a little longer before being taken to a still and transmorgified into that magical beverage, where a little means a lot.

The tuak is boiled on a fire and the alcoholic steam is collected then directed into bamboo pipes to cool before it drips into the plastic containers that hold it ready for distribution. When arak comes from the villages, it s of a good quality with none of the deadly methanol or other additives, that may be found in the anonymous back street producers of Denpasar. After all they would not want to kill off their customers, would they!

http://www.nowbali.co.id/secret-bali-oct10/ Continue to read...


The Original Balinese

Bali Aga are a unique ethnic group that still live and practise a way of life that pre-dates modern civilisation. The Bali Aga are thought to be the original inhabitants of Bali who fled imperialistic invaders, eventually finding refuge in the solitude of Bali's remote mountains. Only two villages remain - which until recently, were firmly shut away from the rest of the world, hidden in the hills of East Bali.

Located just west of Candi Dasa lie the villages of Tenganan and Trunyan - isolated across the vast Lake Batur - Kintamani. The villages, home to the Bali Aga, are shut off by a solid wall surrounding the entire village. The wall is only broken by means of four gates, each facing north, south, east and west. Within these walls lies a massive Banyan tree surrounded by a low wall of uncut stones, making up a small enclosure for a very sacred temple. Tenganan has only recently opened up to outsiders although strict rules still apply, especially concerning marriage to outsiders. Tenganan has wonderful fabrics, including the renowned double weave ikat cloth.

The villagers of Tenganan are tall and slender with very pale complexions and refined manners. The men folk still wear their hair long and have a communistic system which does not recognize individual ownership of property. Every house in Tenganan looks exactly alike, with a flight of steps leading to a small gate opening into a courtyard with sleeping quarters, kitchen, and a long house for storage. A small empty shrine, signifies a place where spirits may rest when they visit their descendants. Tenganan owns huge tracts of fertile and well cultivated lands capable of satisfying the needs of the village; and also making Tenganan one of the richest in Bali.

A people known for their filed and blackened teeth, the Bali Aga are said to bring the spirits of their ancestors down to Earth for protection through sacrifices. The Bali Aga leave the bodies of their dead in the jungle to be carried away by the spirits, and they are believed to have possibly eaten parts of their headmen's bodies to absorb magic powers. Family clans are ruled by a council of elders who are also religious priests. The Bali Aga revere the forces of nature and the spirits of their ancestors, with whom they continue to live as a great family of both the living and the dead.

Bali Aga Rites
The Tenganans practice an ancient rite known as mekare kare, the ritual blood sacrifice. This is not as gory as it sounds, but an event where all villagers get involved in an annual ritual combat, using thorny pandan leaves to draw blood.

Each combatant hits his opponent with the aim of drawing blood. The ritual fight will be held every time there is a temple ceremony is Tenganan, which tends to fall in the fifth month of the Balinese calendar.

The fighting and the blood are real, and all participants come well prepared, carrying weapons of a rotan-woven shield and a bundle of thorny pandan leaves, used to scratch the opponent's skin until it bleeds.

Before the fight begins, participants drink rice wine or tuak, fermented local palm, to symbolise brotherhood and sportsmanship. But when the selonding music fills the air, a volley of fierce jeers, insults, cheers and shouts are thrown to instill fear. And the fighting begins.

The fighting is judged by a mediator, most probably a prominent figure of the village, and usually lasts for a fierce 5 to 10 minutes. The first person to draw blood with the thorny weapon is victor, and the person he draws blood from is the vanquished. Both victor and vanquished are broken up by the mediator as soon as blood is drawn.

As the injured are treated with traditional liquid medicines, and all fighters recover their strength, the whole village prepares food and drink for an elaborate feast which must follow the Balinese sacrifice of human blood.

Balinese culture has also got a population control mechanism in their child naming practices, and this is not only confined to the Bali Aga, but encompasses every Balinese. Every first born is named Wayan, second born Made, third Nyoman, and the fourth Ketut. Anymore children will see a repeat of the names following the order. But this practice definitely is a big hint and subtle reminder to stop at a maximum of four!

More Info :

http://www.bali-indonesia.com/culture/bali-aga.htm#ixzz1A2Q7chU4 Continue to read...
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