Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by mumunmumun on 9 September 2013 • Destination
I stood close and stared at the holy man reading from a red cloth, holding in tears. I must have looked captivated, creepy, and nosy. The cloth was written in what is called ‘bahasa tanah’ or the language of soil. He then chanted during the start of ‘Bambu Gila’ or crazy bamboo, evoking spirits to enter the long bamboo held by 7 men in red shorts and matching head band. I thought I’d be distracted by their topless built physic but I was fixated by the holy man’s script. I couldn’t make any of the words. None of them seemed familiar nor rooted to the Malay language, the base of Indonesian language. What is he saying? What is this language that I couldn’t understand?
As I watched the three holy men chanted and blew into the end of the bamboo in turns, I had chills down my spine. We were watching an old ritual and tapping to the world beyond our own. These people knew how. People in general may not believe it, but I do and it’s rare to have one happening in front of me. Mind blowing!
‘Bambu Gila’ is an attraction which is said to originate from Halmahera and then became popular in Ambon. It’s basically having an odd number of people trying to hold on to a long piece of bamboo that goes wild and moves on its own. Yes, ‘Bambu Gila’ is one of those metaphysical shit from the East. True enough, the more the ‘bahasa tanah’ was chanted and the more the holy men blew into the bamboo, the more the bamboo moved. Game faces of the 7 men holding on to the bamboo were on, as they became more prepared for unexpected motions. A few minutes later, the men shouted ‘Gila! Gila!’ (translated: ‘Crazy! Crazy!’) marking the start of what is now considered an ‘attraction.’
Almas, our local Maluku friend, explained that ‘Bambu Gila’ originated from the ritual to evoke spirits to induce a fearless fighting mentality before going to war. I’ve tried researching only to find little information online. Most of them have reported that this is an entertaining attraction, which actually doesn’t make much sense. Why would any primitive culture consider this purely entertainment? As if they didn’t have a lot to do in the past aside to gathering fruit, hunt, collect firewood, build their own house, and doing laundry without a laundry machine. Not to mention, catch up with the local gossip with the neighboring village, which could have been 2 days walk in those days. However, sources consistently said that the bamboo has to be picked from the Gamalama Mountain and a mini ceremony must be conducted before cutting the bamboo. It would have been too much work for mere ‘entertainment’.
So I believed what Almas said; it was to enhance fighting spirit. I had to believe him after seeing how exhausted these men were trying to keep up with the bamboo. It wasn’t like they were thrilled after a roller coaster ride. The row of men swayed left to right, up and down, ran near and far around the sandy area. Their faces cringe between smiling of the thrilling sensation and fear. We approached and stepped back following the direction of the men to get a closer shot of the action. There is no telling where the bamboo will lead them or where we would have to step to save ourselves. Exciting! At times the bamboo kinda dragged them out into the ocean, but was held back by the holy men. Most of the time, it was the holy men guiding the bamboo with 2 halves of coconut with incense burning in it.This probably lasted a good 15 minutes until the bamboo cracked; before any of us (the Baronda Maluku team) could have a go. It wasn’t meant to be.
Spooky thing was, one of Barry’s camera suddenly stopped working during ‘bambu gila.’ Was it coincidental?! *queue Twighlight music
The committee did have to call in this attraction (not sure how much) but it’s worth the money spent. Admittedly, I’ll settle for ‘tourism attraction’ rather than evoking spirits for war. I did have mixed feelings. I’m very glad to have seen it at all, ‘cause yet again, I discovered another piece of puzzle that defines Indonesia. It was amazing and brought me some compassion to see something so ancient. It was also very intriguing as to what was whispered into the bamboo making it so mad. How could you piss off a dead bamboo? At the same time, it made me feel a bit sad which brought me to my hanging tears. Somehow it felt like our generation had neglected something profound as communicating with spirits. We live in a time of logic and science, and this does not fit in our current equations. Although life is dandy, are we missing something special from our past? It already feels like depletion to see this tradition as a mere ‘tourist attraction’.
The band. Not much action.
I pray that the Maluku people will still keep this tradition and the children would want to inherit it until we reach a time where we would finally understand it. Who knows, one day we’ll understand its meaning just like we understand how ‘going back to nature’ and all that natural eastern new age stuff are important. Till that day, if you’re in Ambon, you might want to try this and pay the spirits a visit, ‘cause where else can you really meet them in person and in such a playful event?
This post is part of the Baronda Maluku project fully supported by the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, but the opinions are my own.