Food plays an important role in any culture. We all have our comfort foods that we crave when we are sick or far from home. If you've been to Bali, you know their main staple is rice. So it’s not that surprising that their ancestral deities, Gods and spirits of chaos, take the shape of a rice-based meal.
Early morning women cook rice and take a scoop of it as an offering for the ethereal beings. A few grains are placed on small squares of banana leafs and sprinkled with salt. The Balinese believe that energy is concentrated around certain parts of the family compound. These areas include stoves, the circuit breaker box, spigots, wells and in all the shrine areas. In some families, offerings are also placed on vehicles and in doorways. It is only after the spirits and gods have eaten that we then partake of the gift of rice.
At temple festivals and ceremonies (odalan), much larger offerings are made. Traditionally they are a combination of fruit, rice cakes and flowers. There is a tiny mound of rice hidden away underneath the requisite saur (roasted coconut and turmeric), which is said to be a favorite of the gods. This gebogan (Balinese offering) can weigh up to 30 kilos, depending on how much fruit is placed on it. These have become a real source of pride for Balinese women for two reasons: firstly, she is showing her wealth by affording the expensive fruit (buah impor or imported fruit, such as green grapes, Sunkist oranges and Fuji apples); secondly, she is demonstrating her strength if she can carry something that heavy.
A generation or two ago, there were only two to three layers of fruit in a gebogan with a lot of flowers to make up the height. Nowadays, the minimum tends to be four. The high cost of imported fruit means that one gebogan can cost a week’s salary. Today's offerings increasingly include soft drinks, such as the Japanese sports drink Pocari Sweat, 7 Up and juice boxes along with exotic fruit. With bananas going for at least 1,000 Rp a piece, having two layers is a heavy burden.
We are meant to offer the gods what we grow, and give thanks for what we have in our backyard. I often joke with the Balinese and ask them if their gods even WANT the foreign fruit, much less recognize it. I also question how the gods would open cans of soda pop. If the gods start to enjoy their soft drinks too much, won’t it mean that soon they will abandon Bali and head for the supermarkets of Singapore and Sydney to look for all that “forbidden” fruit?
“Stay local,” I say. Keep our holy carbon footprint low.
Rucina Ballinger was abandoned in Bali at the age of two by her parents and has had to make her living as abarong dancer, village head and virgin priestess. She has two gorgeous grown sons and currently works as a cultural tour guide, a gedebong goyang comedian and a non-profit project manager. She is on the Hubud board and does not do yoga.
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