15 July 2016

Balinese Traditions

Whether you’ve been visiting Bali for years or you’re planning you first trip, there are plenty of things about the Balinese people that you probably don’t know. Customs and traditions unique to the Balinese have been passed down from generation to generation for centuries, and many of these customs still hold fast even with the most modern generations. Here are some Balinese Customs you might find interesting:

Long Hair Don’t Care. When a woman becomes pregnant her husband is forbidden to cut his hair until the baby is born. In many villages this also goes for the wife, but it is less noticeable for them than it is for men who might normally wear their hair short. If someone you know is usually well groomed but suddenly looks in need of a good hair cut, chances are his wife is pregnant! It seems it’s just thought to be bad luck.

Where do all the Bodies Go? This is shocking for some, but most villages have mass cremations every 5 years as it is very expensive to pay for a single cremation. But what happens to the deceased in the meantime, you ask? Well…family members are buried and given a small funeral and then the night before the mass cremation the men in the village will dig up the bones in preparation for cremation. Up to about a month before a mass cremation bodies will be buried but after that it is considered too soon to include them in the cremation as the body won’t have time to decompose enough to be exhumed. These souls have to wait another 5 years in the ground.

Everyone Has a Twin. When babies are born in Bali, as soon as the cord is cut their placenta, or ari-ari, is whisked off to the family compound and buried in the family temple or in front of the family home. The placenta is considered to be the twin of the baby and will protect them throughout their life. The placentas of male children are buried on the right side of the house and females on the left. Offerings are left on the burial spot and a candle or lantern is kept burning above the placenta for the first 42 days of the baby’s life.

Don’t Touch. As in a number of other cultures, in Bali it is very rude to touch someone on the head. This isn’t really an issue amongst adults, but many Westerners forget and pat or rub children on the head out of affection. It is not something most people will get angry about if you are foreign and aren’t aware of this faux pas, but out of respect please try to remember heads are the most sacred part of the body and should not be touched.

Pillows are for Heads. Leading on from number 4, you also don’t want to sit or put your feet on pillows. By all means if you are in your hotel room go ahead, but if you happen to be in a Balinese household bum and feet = dirty/spiritually unclean. Pillows are for your head, which is the “cleanest” part of your body so using them for lower bits of your body is a no no.

A Different Type of Bull Riding. Can you imagine if you saw someone climb on their mother or father’s coffin at their funeral and ride it to the cemetery? That’s exactly what you’ll see during a Balinese cremation. The son or other male family members climb atop the bull (called a lembu) or tower, which carries the body of the deceased. The black taurus is brought to the cremation place, a child of the family riding on it. The ride isn’t a smooth one either, so you’ll see the rider hanging on for dear life. The men carrying the coffin will run, spin it and bounce it around to confuse bad spirits that might try to get to the deceased on the way to the cemetery.

Cockfighting Superstitions. On the way to a cockfight men will look very closely for signs that their luck will be good. If they pass a broken penjor or if a pregnant woman waves at them they will immediately turn around and go home because those are some of the worst signs. It is a requirement for each temple on the island to host a cockfight every year. The spilled blood is considered a sacrifice and the only way to ensure good harvests. A sign we might take as the worst luck but they see as fantastic is if a dog pees on their cock’s cage their luck is in that day! One of the wonderful things about visiting or living in Bali are the unique customs and traditions. This is what makes Bali so interesting to foreigners and one of the most amazing cultures in the world.

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