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The Whipping Boys of Bali

Photos from the ‘Blood Sport’ of 'Perang Pandan' in Tenganan Village, East Bali

(6/10/2012) The Bali Aga village of Tenganan in the Karangasem regency is home to a unique set of cultural traditions, specific to this mysterious village that still forbids marriage to outsiders and tightly closes its four gates to the outside world each evening. Viewed as a walled and fortress-like village to non-residents, that image contrasts sharply with the intense cordiality shared common among village members who live in ancient wooden homes standing on the side of orderly and very wide cobblestone streets paved centuries ago. Shielded to some degree to the rest of the world, the people of Tengangan exhibit a strong sense of shared identity behind their village gates, demonstrated by the absence of walls separating one household from the next.

The people of Tenganan do dance to the beat of a different drummer, sharing traditions that predate the 16th century Majapahit wave that swept across Bali. Even the calendar is read differently in Tenganan where the Balinese New Year and day of absolute silence (Nyepi) are celebrated on dates at odds from the rest of the island, according to separate rules and rituals practiced by people who consider themselves the “original Balinese.”

Justifiably popular as a stop on any cultural tour of East Bali, visitors are also drawn to Tenganan to see the unique “double ikat” cloths made here.

On Friday, June 8, 2012, hundreds of tourists were drawn to Tenganan to see the annual celebration of the local blood sport of Perang Pandan or Mekare-kare. In contests reserved for young unmarried men and teenage boys, contestants, clad only in sarongs and traditional headwear, face off in two-man bouts armed with thorn-edged pandan leaves used to  mercilessly flail the opponent's naked torso.

Symbolic of an ancient mythic battle among the gods, participation in these matches are virtually mandatory for local unmarried men beginning as young as 13 or 14 years of age. In bouts that last up to five minutes, the goal is to beat your opponent into retreat by inflicting bloody wounds on his back and sides of his body. Performed to music provided by a local percussion orchestra, strict rules require that good humor prevails, with displays of anger and revenge considered "bad form" on the part of any contestant.

We've discovered an excellent series of photos taken during the latest round of Perang Pandan held in Tenganan made by talented Indonesian photographer Robertus Pudyanto we'd like to share.

[View these outstanding pictures of the ‘Perang Pandan’]   

Enjoy!