Barong Bali Dance

The Barong appears in nearly every religious ritual event, whether performed in the odalan (community prayers) at the pura (village temple), ngelawang (ritual purification) during the Sugian Penenten seven days before Galungan, or consecrated as tapakan betara.
In short, the Barong is an inseparable part of Balinese community life.
Undeniably, the barong has a special place in the hearts of the Balinese. It can easily be found in nearly all corners of the island. It may be in the form of masks sold in the art markets, in the form of paintings hung in galleries, or as part of a dance performance, either for sacred purposes or merely as entertainment for tourists.
In his Mengenal Barong dan Rangda (Introducing Barong and Rangda), I Nyoman Yoga Segara S.Ag. explains that etymologically the word barong derives from the Sanskrit b(h)arwang. This is cognate to the Malay word beruang, a mammal native to Asia, America and Europe with a short tail and thick fur – the bear. In Indonesia, bears live in Sumatra and Kalimantan. The word beruang is treated similarly to the names of other animals, such as singa (lion), macan (tiger), babi (pig), and gajah (elephant).
The word b(h)arwang is also close in meaning to the Dutch word beer, which also means "bear". The bear is identified with the manifestation of the barong, a mythological beast that appears in Tantric legends. This is based on the fact that almost no performances that feature a barong employ a creature that resembles an actual bear; indeed, some types of barong performances contain no animal figures at all, yet are still referred to as "barong". This is indicative of how closely entwined the barong is with the lives of the Balinese.
One concrete example of how close the barong is to the hearts of the Balinese is the large number of betara tapakan (sanctified effigies) in the form of barong. These barongs are believed to protect the village and ward off disaster.
The process to create a barong to serve as a batara tapakan is quite complex. It starts with the determination of an auspicious day to cut the wood from which it will be made, and then the tapel (mask making) work until the barong is initiated through a pasupati ritual, which is commonly called ngerehang (bringing the barong spiritually to life).
The species of wood most often used are pule and kepah. These varieties are quite resistant to rotting and termites. If good wood is selected and properly preserved, a barong tapel can last for hundreds of years. When one of these barong tapakan has reached such an age, the Balinese usually refer to it as betara lingsir.
One renowned craftsman who produces tapel barong is Wayan Tangguh, from Banjar Mukti, Singapadu, Gianyar. Several of his works have been consecrated at various pura. When he was 13, Tangguh was already skilled at making masks and barong and rangda figures, and had already penetrated the export market.
Tangguh, an elementary school graduate, has held three exhibitions in Taiwan, in 1974, 1982 and 1994. He regularly relates that he became involved in mask making through an inner impulse, and not through any coercion from his family. His love for masks, both barong and rangda, probably derives from his childhood habits.
"When we were young, every chance we got my friends and I would play wearing coconut shells that we had made into toy barongs. It's probably because I became acquainted with barong and masks so early that I was inspired to take them up as a profession," explains Tangguh, who is married to Ni Ketut Sukri.
However, Tangguh claims that when he was a child he never dreamt of becoming a mask maker; his goal was to become a dalang, a wayang kulit puppet master. Yet he is not disappointed that he never achieved that goal; he feels he was fated to become a mask maker.
His works, born from his talent and expertise and his training under Cokorda Oka Tublen, have enchanted many art lovers; he regularly receives orders for barong masks from as far away as France, Germany and Italy.
I Made Samba tells a different story. Samba is also involved in the world of barong, but as a barong dancer. Samba, born in Banjar Kawan, Jumpai village, Klungkung Regency, is preserving this ancient art from the onslaught of modernization by transmitting it to the younger generation.
Samba explains that what differentiates the sekaa barong (barong performance troupe) Budaya Bahari in Jumpai from other sekaa barong is the unique way they carry their fans and umbrellas. Barong dancers in other villages normally dance holding their fans and umbrellas in their hands; the dancers in Desa Jumpai can carry them using their feet and toes. This unique characteristic makes the sekaa barong of Desa Jumpai famous not only at home but abroad as well.
"I've got students from all over Bali – Buleleng, Karangasem, even Nusa Penida. I'm truly grateful for this, that the barong dance will be preserved forever," Samba, a father of five, says with a sparkle in his eyes.
Samba feels it is unlikely that the art of barong will die out. By tradition, once every fifteen days (on Kajeng Kliwon in the Balinese calendar) the people of Jumpai hold a barong and telek performance – a ritual they believe will bring the village peace and prosperity.
This tradition has kept the art of barong performance alive in Jumpai, and the village has often presented its performance in the annual Bali Arts Festival. Samba has taken part in many other dance festivals as well. In 2002, he received the Seni Dharma Kusuma award from the Bali provincial government for his service to art and culture, specifically in the areas of barong, telek and calonarang dances.

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