After a week in Kuta, we got our extended visas back and were so ready to leave town. (By the way, I highly recommend just going to a travel agency and paying the $30 fee to have them do it for you as opposed to trying to go in yourself. We heard so many horror stories of people being asked for bribes and made to wait days at a time to do their own visa extensions. We just dropped our passports off and had them back days earlier than we were promised.)
We took a tourist van to Ubud and walked into town like we knew exactly what we were doing. We had visited Ubud during our last trip to Bali and it remained one of our favorite places ever. It is quite toutisty in the city center, but the class of tourist is a bit less ‘drink til you puke’ and a bit more ‘I just must have a set of those rattan place mats!’. Some people might find it inauthentic, but it is an absolutely gorgeous town with great restaurants and a mellow vibe. There is art everywhere: statues, tilework, even the sidewalks have little shells and colorful rocks inlaid to make designs. The locals make daily offerings, which are typically little woven-leaf trays arranged with fragrant flowers and candies or crackers; they preform a small ritual as they place each offering. Despite the undeniable tourist presence, it still feels like a place that has its own identity. The whole atmosphere is pretty unreal and it was made more exotic by the timing of our arrival just a few days before Nyepi.
Nyepi is the Balinese New Year, which fell in late March this year. The day itself is marked by silence and introspection- no one is allowed out of their home all day- but the days leading up to Nyepi are full of processions, elaborate offerings, and special performances. For us, and for everybody with a maturity level somewhere around ‘junior high late-bloomer’ the highlight of the Nyepi preparations was the ogah-ogah parade. This aspect of the holiday is actually a recent addition and was included expressly for the purpose of venting the energy of teenage boys. Ogoh-ogohs are giant paper machè figures that are supposed to terrify or at least gross out the audience. Groups of boys get together months before Nyepi to plan and create the most grotesque figures they can imagine; there is an abundance of breasts, genitalia, warts, blood, pointed teeth, and expressions of violence. The night before Nyepi, these groups of boys mount their figures on bamboo supports and parade them through the streets on their shoulders. There is music, singing, yelling, cheering, and just noise in general. At the end of the parade, the ogoh-ogohs are set on fire. Absolutely every aspect of this parade is tailored to appeal to the sensibilities of teenage boys.
There is a kind of justification for the addition of ogah-ogahs in the Nyepi events. Amid all the mindful prayers and elaborate offerings, teenage boys were growing disinterested in the traditional customs when they were surrounded by Western culture and excitement the rest of the year. In the 1980s, the ogoh-ogohs were brought in as a way to tie the young men to the holiday and give them an outlet for energy and creativity that could be appreciated by the whole community. The quick explanation of Nyepi, as understood by this Westerner, is that the days before Nyepi evil spirits are roused from the island by noise and celebration; on Nyepi day, everyone stays inside their homes and observes silence so as to fool the spirits into thinking the island is now uninhabited in hopes that they will pass over the island and not give people any problems in the new year. The ogah-ogahs, then, are very much in keeping with the idea of rousing the spirits or even scaring the evil spirits away. And there is, of course, the added bonus of yelling in the streets and setting things on fire.
Today, the ogoh-ogoh parade is very much a part of the Nyepi tradition entire families come out to watch. We had rented a motorbike several days before Nyepi and saw monsters-in-progress in even the smallest villages. We were also lucky enough to come across an ogah-ogah parade a day early, which was far enough outside of town that we didn’t see any other tourists in attendance, although the streets were crowded with local families. The parade we saw in Ubud included floats by very young boys with correspondingly light-weight ogoh-ogohs and even an all-girl float, which was met with huge applause, but there is no question who this tradition is for. We didn’t follow the parade to the end, where the burning was alleged to take place (nowadays, some communities will not allow the floats to be burned, whereas others have glommed on to the commercial appeal of the whole thing and auction off the floats after the parade. Who buys a giant orange pig with a prominent wart-covered anus is anybody’s guess and what they might do with it is even more elusive to me.), but we were certainly immersed in the Nyepi spirit and really looking forward to the calm and quiet of the next day.
Love the predator
Floats hanging out in town waiting till Nyepi starts
Boys marching their float in the parade
behind the floats, boys bang on gongs and big metal drums just, well, they just bang on their metal.
A boy bangs a drum to help his father ward evil spirits out of their house, while Dad lights incense and makes offerings. You could see this all over town as dusk fell.
The boys weave and spin the floats, which is pretty hazardoes to bystanders, but fun for them.
About as attractive from behind…
…as it is from the front
Little kids carry little floats
Girls are part of the fun, but they parade alongside with torches
This one lit up as night fell!
Kid wailing away on his gong
girls with painted fangs accompany their town’s float