Lontar palms growing on Savu look much like the landscape in my village on Bali

The high point for me this year was bringing some of our friends from Savu over to Bali for the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival. Over the years that I have been visiting Savu I have been amazed at how comfortable I always feel there. Perhaps it is because so much of the way of life in Savu is similar to the dry north coast of Bali where I grew up. I see it in the ways that they use rituals to evoke prosperity, harmony and health between the realms of humans, animals and nature. In Bali we call this Tri Hita Karana.

Like the people in Savu, my parents also rely on their land for subsistence and like on Savu they particularly rely on the lontar palms as a source of income. My friends in Savu do not believe that my parents are also palm tappers and make sugar from the liquid of this palm. It seems impossible for them to imagine that life in Bali could be like life is in Savu. Their impressions of Bali are what they see on TV which only shows one side of life in Bali. To them all of Bali looks lush and rich.

My family on the north coast of Bali are palm tappers, just like on Savu
Members from Savunese groups of weavers and dancers were invited to Bali

In August this year Threads of Life invited eight members from the communities of Namata and Mehara on Savu to come to Bali and perform for the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival, October 5th – 8th. For most of them it was the first time they had traveled beyond Savu or Timor, so it was a big adventure for them.

Willy and I met with the group on Savu in late September to rehearse what they would perform in Bali. As their performance in Bali was based on dance and songs that are still performed for the rituals that take place throughout the Savu calendar, they were well rehearsed and appeared very professional.

The performers often dance and sing at ceremonies and were well rehearsed
The Waratada dance recalls a story related to the two matrilineal moieties

In all of the dances there is strong connection to nature and the ancestors, and it is this that makes these dances and songs so alive. We focused on three dances — Waratada, Ledo and Pedoa — to present at the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival. The Waratada dance recalls the story of a woman called Waratada who founded a sub-lineage of one of the two matrilineal moieties into which Savunese society divides itself. These are called the Hubi Ae (Greater Blossom) and Hubi Iki (Lesser Blossom).

By traditional law one’s Hubi is important in determining the life transition ceremonies performed between birth and death. It is important to marry someone from your own Hubi. When someone dies, the rites must be performed according to the traditions of their matrilineal line; if the deceased is not wearing a cloth from thier Hubi, they will not be recognized in the spirit world.

By traditional law if the deceased is not wearing a cloth from their Hubi, they will not be recognized in spirit world

Stories collected by Willy Daos Kadati and I Ketut Wenten were translated by Threads of Life for the Festival

From the Waratada song:
“If you listen, in the silence of your heart,
You can hear the rooster’s crow
Echo from the fields and walls of Lie Gete;
From where the sun rises
With the trumpet sound of a seashell,
from the bow of Hooma Lo’s boat
It breaks in waves of grief and sorrow”

The Ledo dance is performed at a funeral in order to lead the spirit of the deceased to its ancestors.The Tao Leo is the highest level and most complete funeral rite. The Ledo Dance is performed at a Tao Leo funeral rite which is only appropriate for a community leader or member of the traditional council.

The Ledo dance is performed at the highest level of funerals
The Pedoa dance asks for fertility, welfare and safety for all beings on the earth

The Pedoa dance is performed to ask for fertility, welfare and safety. It is held during the month of Bangaliwu in the Savunese calendar, which correponds to the April-May period. The accompanying ceremony is held in three parts: the Mengeru dou rite that requests fertility, welfare and safety for humans; the Mengeru b’ada rite that requests these aspects for animals; and the Mengeru rai rite that requests these aspects for the earth as the home for all beings.

As a staff member of Threads of Life I am deeply aware of how important it is to encourage the youth to be proud of their local culture and not to think that by following the old ways that they will be seen as being primitive and incapable of engaging in the benefits of a modern socieity. When the young people see outsiders such as myself and particularly western tourists showing an interest in their culture, I believe the youth are able to recognize that the Savunese culture has value to themselves and the world.

Younger members of the Savunese troupe performing at the Threads of Life allery for the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival
Over 400 visitors watched the Savunese perform during the 2010 Ubud Readers and Writers Festival

Over 200 people showed up at the first Festival performance. More than this showed up the second night! The excitment we all felt is something I will remember for a long time!

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