For our last day in Bali, we are scheduled to meet Wayan again to finish off a couple more essential tourist experiences. As we climb in the car, Wayan delivers good news. “You don’t have to miss the Ogoh-Ogoh festival after all!”
Driving through Bali this last week, we saw multiple giant paper mache monsters held in crates and frames, groups of Balinese hammering, painting, and gluing. “These monsters are called the Ogoh Ogoh (pronounced “OH-Gough, OH-Gough”); they represent the evil, dark, negative forces in our lives.” Wayan explained. “All the villages in all of Bali make Ogoh Ogoh to celebrate the Hindu New Year’s Eve. (Which is apparently scheduled for the day we are flying out.) You are lucky,” Wayan tells us. “If you didn’t fly out that day, you’d have to wait two more days because you can’t fly out on Niyepi.”
Niyepi is the official Hindu New Year, and on Niyepi, all of Bali falls silent. Everyone must stay indoors, no electricity can be used, and no one can travel anywhere. “The rules even apply to tourists.” Wayan explained. Why? Everyone hopes that after the rousing celebrations held the night before, the Ogoh-Ogoh will get confused by the silence and figure anyone they might want to haunt has gone away. So, if we didn’t want to experience Niyepi, I guess we were lucky, but Andrew and I were both disappointed that we didn’t get to stick around for celebrations.
On this last day in town, Wayan announces good news. “One village is starting their Ogoh Ogoh celebrations a day early, so we can go to that one if you want.” Andrew and I enthusiastically agreed we should.
First, though, we headed out to the rice fields to check off a Bali essential. We ate lunch, and tried another smelly durian fruit to determine once and for all that we really don't like it.
Next, we stopped in to Wayan’s house. He poured us delicious Balinese coffee his nephew grows and served crispy crackers. He shows us his family temple and explains the layout of the house. An open courtyard with central platform for family ceremonies is surrounded by a circular layout of the family temple, a series of little houses for Wayan’s parents, Wayan, and his brother’s families to sleep in, and a kitchen/restroom area away from the center. “If parents have sons, they are lucky. All of the sons and their families stay in the family compound and live together. I only have daughters. They will live with their husband’s family.” He explains.
Then, we move on for the big festivities. We drive to the nearby village and join a gathering of locals watching others put last minute finishing on their Ogoh Ogoh.
Others stood gathering incense, flowers, rice and woven palm frond baskets to give offerings and prayers.
Andrew and I take a stop at each one and admire the handiwork. The Ogoh Ogoh are amazing. Much larger than life-sized, they are decorated with complex fashions, jewels, facial expressions, and terrifying features. One has an angry witch-like woman emerging from his mouth at the end of his tongue. I admit, if one of these devils visited me in my sleep, I’d be horrified.
As I kneel in the grass trying to get just the right angle on one of the monsters, I hear a large group of men growling and howling. I turn to find a giant Ogoh Ogoh moving at me bouncing with the jostle of a quick sprint. At face level, a group of thirty or so men spaced inside a grid of wood run while carrying their piece to balance the giant monster on their shoulders. As they arrive, the crowd parts to give them space, anonymous voices yelp with surprise and the fear like that of patrons on a rollercoaster. The men - all dressed in matching purple t-shirts, various patterned sarongs, and Balinese head dresses - spin the Ogoh Ogoh once one way, once the other way, then tuck the monster into an open space in what is now becoming a fully formed circle around the village park. Things calm down as they set the Ogoh Ogoh in place and start their own finishing touches.
“Wow!” I say to Andrew, my eyes wide.
As dusk falls, everyone starts to organize. Community leaders take their places in chairs beneath two tents, an MC takes her spot on a microphone, groups of village neighbors gather together with signs indicating where they are from in front of their respective Ogoh Ogoh. Then, the Ogoh Ogoh are lit with colored lights, their evil eyes glowing red or yellow or green. Some emit smoke.
A group of young Balinese girls arrive to gongs, flutes and chimes carrying offerings. They complete their dance, using angular movements of their eyes and arms just like the women in the plays we had watched earlier in the week.
Then, torches are lit and a mob of neighbors march forward as the microphone is passed to a man with a deep and angry voice in charge of telling the story of each Ogoh Ogoh. He impersonates the growling, screeching, and howling of the monsters. Villagers light torches in groups and clump together to lead the way, then the group of village men hoist the Ogoh Ogoh on their shoulders. They run, spin and spin, bounce, jiggle, yank, and toss the Ogoh Ogoh in every direction. People video and cheer, village musicians play gongs, drums, and bells. Each display of Ogoh Ogoh becomes more elaborate than the last.
Wayan leans in toward me. “They have to spin the Ogoh Ogoh around to disorient him. They want to make sure he gets lost and confused. After they leave this park, they will parade the Ogoh Ogoh through the village and stop at each intersection to spin and toss him around just like this.”
“Really!” I say, imagining the traffic jam that will inevitably result. “And you say every village in Bali is doing this exact same thing tomorrow evening?” Wayan nods. I decide we need to leave early to get to the airport.
One after another, each of fifteen Ogoh Ogoh for this small village is displayed. Fireworks accompany one, fire twirlers and flame swallowers accompany another. “At the end of the route, tomorrow night, we will all set fire to our Ogoh Ogoh and make sure they burn completely to ash. We don’t want any evil darkness lingering around.” Wayan tells me. I marvel to think: all that detailed work, only to light them on fire and burn them completely to ash by the end of the night?
After all the Ogoh Ogoh have vacated the park and headed on their way, Wayan gathers us up to take us back to the hotel. As I look over my shoulder, I watch an entire community of people marching their parade through the street, holding torches, playing gongs, shaking, and twirling giant monsters on their backs. A whole community of minds, creativity, and heart all directed at the same goal: discombobulate and shake off the darkness that pursues us all. I hope their day of silence is successful, and each of their monsters will get lost and give up the chase.
That night, we finish one last Tibetan bowl meditation. I approach Wakua Blueflame’s bronze bowls and candle light unsure whether I will meet Ogoh Ogoh or her healing angels. Either way, I’ll go. I lay on my mat, submitting myself to whatever ride I am going on tonight. I accept with uneasiness that the Bali breeze scattered seeds of many ideas, none of which have quite taken root…yet. It was a short but packed week of exploration. I wouldn't be surprised if the Oddgodfreys visit Bali again.