14 Sep, 2016


The farmers in eastern Bali, Karangasem regency district of GerianaKauh had taken the most unlikely method to recover their broken rice field by resurrecting the goddesses related to a rice culture ritual, called Sang Hyang Dedari Dance. They believe the ritual as a solution to a succesful farming instead of using hight tech fertilizer.

This dance was part of a sacred rite to extol Dewi Sri, the goddesses of fertility. This dance was recently recognized as the Intangible World Heritage by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) along with two other Balinese sacred rites: Rejang Dance and Baris Dance.

“The villagers always perform this dance annually,” the district administrator (prajuru) I Wayan Bhrata said, accompanied by the customary leader (bendesa) I Nengah Likub.

177 householders comprised in Geriana Kauh customary village depend their livehood on the rice field. They had suffered from a long drought and heavy pests for more than a decade.

The problem occured as the locals shifted into modern farming method by using more hybrid seeds and chemical fertilizers to maximize the yield. The neglected the Subaks order—a form of ancient Bali’s irrigation technique and interrupted the consistency of Sang Hyang Dedari Dance ritual.

“Pesticide clearly has some negative impacts, for example, we were used to see a lot of eels and lizards in the farmlands, now they were rarely seen. It probably happened as ‘pak subak’ (the farmers) used those chemicals and inorganic fertilizers heavily,” Bhrata states.

A lot of disputes among the locals occurred amid the drought that hit the land. The villagers lost their passions for farming and migrated to the city to work in tourism sector, Bhrata said.

Learning from the mistakes, the locals revived Sang HyangDedari dance to restore the unproductive lands and the damaged relations in community.

Reviving the sacred

As Bali’s ancient paddy or “Padi Masa” was ready to harvest – proven by its golden-yellowish color – the locals worked together preparing four little girls to be Sang Hyang Dedari’s dancers.

“The locals are committed to always perform Sang Hyang Dedari dance as it is linked into theirfarming tradition. The dance is a form of gratitude from the farmers to Dewi Sri, goddesses of fertility for blessing the healthy field and balanced farmland,” Bhrata said.

Bhrata and Likub are the main initiators for reviving the sacred dance of Sang HyangDedari.

“We choose to leave the modern-high tech farming method and back into the way our parents used to teach us by not forcing the land to produce, sow the local seeds, although the yield is way fewer than the hybrid paddy seed, but the most important step is performing the Sang Hyang Dedari dance every year”.

This ancient sacred dance has been well-preserved by the locals as they reduce the use of hybrid paddy seed, known as “Padi Jepang”. Hybrid paddy could be harvested three times a year which is more productive than the local rice that yields only one time.

“The local’s seedling begins earlier. This seed is a legacy from our ancestors, mainly because of its efficacy to heal the severe headache, or ‘belahan’. The rice’s size is bigger than the hybrid’s,” Bhrata said.

“Ecological farming”

Sang Hyang Dedari dance unveiled that Balinese agricultural tradition is inseparable to its rites, Saras Dewi, an ecological philosophy professor in University of Indonesia who leads the research of the dance said.

“This dance could be used as a strategy for protecting the traditional farmland amid the massive development of unsustainable tourism in Bali,” she added.

The government also could take this dance to reconsider the socio-cultural and environmental aspects in accelerating rice field’s yield, Saras states.

“A traditional ‘ecological’ farming method where the rite and rice field protecting each other should be our main concern. This phenomenon is probably pretty odd, but somehow the locals could prove that this dance restore and preserves the farmland, the ritual successfully protects the environment for more than a decade”.

Along with her other fellows, Saras now engaged with the locals to conserve the Sang Hyang Dedari dance by making a website as well as the museum in the village for converging its scattered information regarding the ritual.

“The museum and website are necessary for preserving our knowledge about the sacred dance, as it has a social function as well as other potentials useful to protect the farmland, even guarding the Balinese’s traditional lives,” Saras states.

The museum could also be used as an initial infrastructure to develop an eco-village tourism based, as a further objective to the community research program, she added.

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