Last edition I talked about the endless connections between Bali and China, and briefly mentioned a dance called Baris Cina. Indigenous to Sanur, the dance is thought to be centuries old, dating back to the dynasty of Sri Kesari in the 10th century, according to local informants. Baris Cina is found only in two villages: Semawang, Sanur and Renon, Denpasar and no one can say which tradition is older; presumably they emerged at around the same era.
Baris Cina is thought to have been influenced by frequent contact between Chinese traders and locals, and this is why the dance not only features kung fu moves but also violent trance in an ancient Chinese dialect. As the name baris suggests, the dance is a warrior drill of macho men in line formation. According to photo documentation by Walter Spies, Baris Cina used to be performed by dancers clad only in white loin cloths brandishing cutlasses; however, since Dutch Colonialism they have adopted black and white martial art garb, hats and sometimes Dutch helmets. The dance is a showdown between the black and white-clad warriors led by aggressive, cutlass wielding maniacal generals. You can cut the tension in the air with a knife at these shows which are sacred and only performed at certain temple ceremonies.
The dancers are accompanied by a pulsating marching gamelan called gong bheri made up of pot gongs, Chinese gongs, a pair of large cymbals, an Islamic bedug drum and a large conch shell. This orchestra is not only the most cosmopolitan traditional gamelan on the planet but can drum up a wild, pulsating beat like no other. Fans of the gong bheri believe that it is more powerful than the ear-blistering gamelan baleganjur and capable of quick trance induction. The pair of boss-less Chinese gongs, onomatopoetically called ‘ber’ and ‘bor’ sure give it a peculiarly old-world China feeling that is difficult to put into words. Baris Cina is one of the most atmospheric dances in Bali. “Guaranteed to make your hair stand on end!” this culture-junky cries!
Vaughan Hatch has immersed himself with Balinese culture, living with locals in Bali since 1997. He speaks fluent Indonesian and Balinese, and is unashamedly addicted to playing gamelan. A linguistic, archaeology and publishing graduate, he works for indOKiwi ‘linguistic and cultural solutions’ in Sanur. Email him on email@example.com or call (0361) 464201 for further queries.