(From The Secret Map)
By Simon Slater
As much of America surfaces in a ball park, on a golf links, at a race track, or around a poker table, much of Bali surfaces in a cock ring. For it is only apparently cocks that are fighting there. Actually, it is men.
Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures
Ubud, Bali. The towering shops and bar crawls of Australia-dominated Kuta is replaced by yoga workshops, upmarket clothes shops, reiki chakra massages and vegan cafes in of the Eat, Pray, Love crowd. The town serves as a hub for western health and ethical lifestyles and a living museum to primitive culture, or at least what tourists believe to be indigenous.
The Kecak, or monkey dance, as it’s sometimes called, is performed in Hindu temples to a regular audience of camera-wiedling holiday-makers. As you may have seen in Ron Fricke’s film Baraka, the Kecak features a large group of topless Balinese males, sat layered in a semi circle, chant to a polyrythmic chrous of “cak cak cak” in hypnotic fashion. This wall of sound forms the ambiance to which the Hindu play, based on India’s Ramayana, is performed. As the play progresses, the chanting men gradually transform into monkeys.
It’s easy for us to believe we’re experiencing a portal to a deep-rooted culture from a forgotten time – it was actually invented by a foreign resident, named Walter Spies, a German artist in the 1930s who blended the pre-existing exorcist chants of the sacred Sangyang dance with imagery from Indian poem.
He then sold and packaged the show to Western tourists to be displayed in Bali’s temples and beaches, as we witness an impressively staged representation of seemingly authentic Balinese culture. Heritage tourism has become big business for brand Bali, and a massive draw for seekers of the exotic.
By combining the two separate sources, Spie’s hybrid creation was a cultural exaggeration of the primitive to generate touristic voyeurism and excitement. It’s the perfect spectacle – a visually dazzling, aurally captivating adrenaline rush with a feeling of being whisked into the past for a short time. Read more