Bali Culture: Not Always a Spectator Event reports that, as in years past, the sacred and colorful ceremonies in connection with the Usaba Sambah Ritual were held this year in the East Balinese community of Tenganan Pengringsingan. 

Falling in 2020 for 30-days culminating on 12 June 2020, the Usaba Sambah Festival retells the interventions and interplay of the gods in the daily life of the people of Tenganan. Elaborate dances, feasts, ritual battles, and other traditions depict that include eternal struggles in lively blood battles, and the union of the sexes in games and activities organized for the Truna and Daha (young men and young women) of the community. 

Glaringly absent from Usaba Sambah celebrations in Tenganan in 2020 were the hundreds of visitors and tourists who are customarily drawn to witness first-hand the rituals – many of which are unique to this Bali Aga Village. Pengringsingan, with its neat rows of homes situated along wide stone-paced boulevards, traces its historical roots to a period predating Bali’s Hindu settlement in the 16th Century.

Image: Kelana DMC

I Wayan Sudarsana, a community chief (Klian ke-2) in Pengringsingan, speaking on Wednesday, 03 June 2020, said that the celebration of Usaba Sambah has been underway this year since the second half of May 2020.

Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, outside visitors have been banned from attending this year’s festivities, including the popular merkare-kare (gered pandan) battles.  These duels see half-naked young men, clad only in sarongs, engage in a blood-battles as they swing barbed pandan leaves at the bare chests, arms, and backs of their opponents. 

These battles in the past were held before hundreds of enthusiastic onlookers. However, the pandan battles this year took place only before neighbors and friends as part of measures intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19. “The ceremony was held, largely as in the past, but this year in strict compliance with health protocols established by the Government (for COVID-19). Accordingly, visitors were banned from entering the village, particularly during the mekare-kare,” Sudarsana explained. 

Local village elders stipulated several key points in connection with the 2020 celebration of Usaba Sambah:

  • The local celebration of Usaba Sambah could not disregard regulations, recommendations, and instructions provided by government authorities to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
  • Tourists, photographers, reporters, and members of the general public – except for authorized government officials – are not allowed to visit Tenganan Pengeringsingan during the holding of the Usaba Sambah Festival. 
  • During the rituals connected with the Usaba Sambah Festival, drones are forbidden to operate in the vicinity of or any area above Tenganan Pengeringsingan.

Guests are forbidden to visits Tenganan Pengeringsingan until the Usaba Sambah festivals concludes on Friday, 12 June 2020. 

Friends and relations of visitors of those living in Pegringsingan are asked to postpone visiting the village until after 12 June 2020.

The Usaba Sambah Festival runs for an entire month. It is undertaken to seek Lord Indra’s blessing and protection, while at the same time cleansing the village of natural disaster threats of any kind. 

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