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Meet the Myth

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© D. Finnin/AMNH

Barong Ket.


How can a mythic creature be brought to life?

Creatures like the unicorn and griffin spring from the human imagination to populate myths and legends. And sometimes people can interact with mythic animals when they come to life as part of a play or performance. The hulking, shaggy Barong of Bali, for instance, appears in ritual dramas, lumbering through the crowds, engaging audience members directly and inviting them to take an active part in the myth-making. As villagers participate in Barong's fight against the forces of chaos in the performance, they are assured that calm has been restored and that all is right in the world.






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© R. Mickens/AMNH

Barong Ket head


Barong Ket

King of the spirits, leader of the forces of good, Barong Ket is like an oversized village guardian for many residents of the island of Bali, Indonesia. When the witch Rangda creates chaos, the lionlike Barong Ket comes to the rescue, fighting off the villains with a ferocious display that brings back a balance between good and evil. But Barong Ket is also mischievous, often teasing and joking with village residents. Most villages in Bali have a Barong costume similar to this one, and young men take theirs on the road to visit other Barong as part of a seasonal celebration. These trips also bring neighboring communities together and allow the young men to meet women outside their village.

At a Glance: Barong Ket

Different regions in Bali have different Barong costumes, each resembling a different animal. Barong Ket resembles a lion, Barong Bangkal a wild boar, Barong Machan a tiger, Barong Lembu a cow, and Barong Asu a dog.

  • Barong Ket is the best known kind of Barong because it is from the Gianyar region where the tourist hub of Ubud is located.
  • One dancer is responsible for moving the head and clacking the teeth.
  • A second dancer wiggles Barong's golden tail.
  • Barong costumes may have been inspired by the elaborate costumes of the Chinese Lion and Unicorn Dances.
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© Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Rangda (Barong Dance)


The Battle With Rangda

The best-known Barong performances involve his battles with the demon queen Rangda. These dramas came to the wide attention of Western audiences in the 1930s thanks to noted American Museum of Natural History anthropologist Margaret Mead and her colleague Gregory Bateson. Today, Barong and Rangda battle performances are especially common in parts of Bali, Indonesia, that are frequented by tourists. In the battles, which are at once theater and ritual, neither side ever wins. Instead, the forces of order and chaos remain in balance, reassuring the audience that all is right in the world.

Rangda

Rangda is the half-goddess, half-witch demon queen of Bali who often battles Barong. Terrifying to behold, she is usually shown as a mostly nude old woman with long, unkempt hair, pendulous breasts, claws, fangs and a long, protruding tongue. The Balinese people believe that by including Rangda in ritual dramas, they hold the dangers of chaos in check.

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© Riser/Getty Images

Barong Dragon, Karya Agung Ceremony, Bentuyung, Bali


A Barong From Bali

Dancers once used this Barong Ket costume in performances in the village of Singapadu in Bali, Indonesia. This costume was made by Cokorda Raka Tisnu, an artist believed by many to make the most powerful Barong masks in Bali.

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