Most of the village, the town is all considered related so they are one family, is Hindu. Ary, the lovely woman who decided to host me as a couch surfer, told me it is actually a mix of Hindu and Buddhism. Munduk is small and I had to take a motorbike here as there are no buses. It is a tourist spot, which surprised me, mostly French, but it’s not cheap, most people rent cars to bring them here, but I found a local motorbike taxi and paid him 4 dollars to drive me the 30 minutes up steep roads full of turns. I arrived around 2 PM still exhausted from being up all night at Ijen and from doing so much the previous two days. Ary had a nice room for me and I took a shower – cold but refreshing. Then we headed to the ceremony.
We found what looked like a little driveway off the road but turned out to be a concrete path winding all the way down the side of the mountain; past beautiful homes full of flowers and lush trees, all very close, a neighborhood connected by a long walkway. The path was thin, steep and winding, though motorbikes were coming it as well. As we went lower into the valley a thin mist began to form. At one point we passed by a beautiful Indonesian woman taking a bath and doing laundry in her concert tub on the side of the path. I did not want to be caught looking at her exposed breasts. I said hello and kind of kept my head down. She had great breast, hard due to the cold water, not to big, but dark and firm, and she was not shy about them in any way. Her and her friend had smirks on their faces and laughed, I think they joked about my embarrassment in Bahasa Indonesian.
At the end of the path we were on another road, full of hundreds of people, cars and motorbikes, all pushing through trying to get to the ceremony. All of the people were dressed in saris of uncountable designs and colors. The women wore shirts of bright colors, many sheer, but they had on undershirts, there were many floral patterns and things like this. Their hair was in pony tails or pulled into a bun and wrapped in tight black silk hairnets. They had pieces of rice stuck onto their forehead in the place of the red dot seen on many Hindus. The men wore mostly white jackets and a white headband with sharp folds making a strong pointy pattern in the center of their head. I put on a sari basically like a dress, wrapped around my waist and down to just above my feet, then a belt and my normal shirt. I’m sure I looked funny trying to figure out how to put it on. Bule.
Walking up the steps and into the even denser crowds of people I was overwhelmed. There was a man flinging holy water on everyone with a small paint brush. Once inside it is hard to decide which way to go. There were people coming out of a doorway and it seemed like the right place, but where to enter? I was clearly looking at the exit. Pushing past some girls and young boys with heavy make up on their faces and big head dresses on of gilded metal leaves and designs, I found the entrance. Inside there was a small set of steps leading up to a platform where from the outside leading in there was another door and a steady stream of women bringing in baskets on their heads filled with offerings of food and flowers , some whole cooked chickens, fruit and vegetables. Later they would take it back home. I don’t think it is the belief but I like the thought that the food would now be blessed and better to eat.
Past the food offerings there were maybe 100 people sitting in prayer, but not stiff, they all seemed very relaxed, some held their thumbs to middle finger on their knees, but most were just sitting and looking, or chatting with the person next to them. In front of everyone were some men with lots of flowers preparing holy water and possibly other things though I don’t know what, it seemed very anti-climactic. One the side there were people playing instruments and there was a man singing or chanting. His voice was very harmonious and calming to listen to. He was sitting next to three other guys. One of them would make a speech later that sounded almost like he was announcing winners to a contest.
I stood and listened for a while but didn’t sit down because the ground was muddy and I didn’t have a plastic bag to sit on. I left through the exit door and got some more holy water splashes, and went to admire the people in makeup, performers. They had long eyelashes and eyeliner, with blue around their eyelids and along their cheekbones, it drew a majority of my attention to their eyes. Their cheeks were reddish, basically their whole face was heavily made up, and they wore bright red lipstick. The girls had elaborate golden head dresses. The boys had spears and almost the same makeup and clothing. They looked very famine, and at first I confused them for younger girls. Later all would dance. The girls had very defined hand movements like in Khmer tradition dance, with fingers and feet in specific positions that would flow into the next position and stop stiffly for pose. They would shake their hips as they moved up and down, and they would shake their heads with a stiff head bobble, the head seeming to rotate directly from the stem of the spinal cord. When they did this they would open their eyes wide and stare with intense directness and strength, almost giving off the look of insanity, then change into a sweet, laughing smile, self-awareness showing through. In some of the dances they would wear long dresses, holding them at their lower thighs as they spun, the dress going high out to the sides. In other dances they used fans, or they would face each other in a circle and show off, maybe in contest, maybe in fun and feminity.
The boys, there were six of them, wore similar dresses but more like the sari I had on. They fought each other with spears or they practiced moves. One of the boys kept shoving his spear into the face of a little girl in the crowd. She was laughing with joy and jumping her head back with every thrust.
This was the second day of three for the ceremony. They have a ceremony every full moon and new moon. The festival starts in the early morning and goes into the night. On the last day it goes all night long.
We walked home in the foggy night. The houses along the walkway provided some light but a flashlight was needed, there certainly were no street lights. Though their houses are small and open without privacy, it felt comfortable and cozy in the cold wet village. Once on the street you could see the big mountains around you, covered in a white mist, cold but not too cold because it’s still tropical here and we’d just walked up the steep path. Although I would miss the comforts of modern life, for me this would be a great place to call home.