Heavy metalBy Radel Paredes
Cebu Daily News
The Balinese have a yearly ceremony for the blessing of everything metal. Metals are, of course, precious in a predominantly agrarian society so it’s not so much of a surprise why people should include them in their prayers. And in ancient times, metals, particularly iron, are either turned into swords or plowshares.
Perhaps it started with prayers for protection both for the tool and for its user. From swords to guns and simple machines, metal tools have over time evolved into bigger, more complex machines like generators and cars.
The different uses of metals in ancient times could now be served by just a single machine: the automobile. The moving metal cocoon protects its user and flaunts his status in society. It can even be turned into an offensive weapon when the need arises.
And so these days, the ceremony for metals is also known as the ceremony for cars. The modern Balinese would start the day performing some ritual for his car or motorbike, attaching onto the machine a colorful ribbon made from palm fronds.
Our host Somadita, a young artist, arrived to fetch us at the gallery that day in his small black Chevy with its own beautiful palm frond ribbon attached to the bumper. It looked too cute and pretty for his rather ragged looks (long kinky hair, goatee, black shades, military shirt and cap). “It’s my sister who made it,” he said. “Men are not allowed to make these things.”
With Soma (as we prefer to call him) is Wayan, another young Balinese artist who looks like Asian rasta in his very long dreadlocks. And so we hopped into Soma’s car looking like a rock band on the way to a gig.
But we were actually hauling artworks for a show of art from both Indonesia and the Philippines that was held in Gaya Art Space, a contemporary art gallery in Ubud, Bali. And always, as soon as we got into the car, Soma would feed his stereo with tracks from his iPod, usually 90s rock classics like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc.
That day, he unwittingly included Metallica in the playlist and I was amused at the strange coincidence, which would make even this column sound contrived. But yes, we went around the streets of Ubud during the day of public ceremony for cars and other metals listening to Metallica in full volume.
I didn’t feel a slight irreverence though as we were all cocooned in the car and I know the Balinese have such high tolerance when it comes to bolehs (foreigners or guests). Besides, our hosts are themselves Hindus, although I doubt if they are the practicing kind.
But on that day, Soma joins the ceremony by putting a ribbon in his car. It was just a simple but pretty ribbon though. Other cars had bigger and more elaborate designs which, to a Filipino boleh, would look something like palm Sunday leaf origami or wedding car décor.
You find more of such ribbons hanging on the handle bars of motorbikes that, in the lack of public transportation system in Bali, is the most popular vehicle. I guess even the most macho of the local Easyriders would not take a chance on not hanging a cute palm frond ribbon on his chopper.
But our other artist friend Anton, born Catholic but also not the practicing kind, is proud that he belongs to the few whose car could go around without ceremonial ribbons. The Javanese-Chinese artist has made Bali his home since the 70s and he loves his secular freedom, particularly his occasional beer binges. I told him that he probably needs the ribbon more than anyone else there. It should at least work like a lucky charm for the non-believer. Otherwise, we could also ask Soma, Wayan and our other Hindu friends to pray for him or his car.
We turned the music off as we slowed down in the traffic jam near the public ceremony held in the middle of the street. I wound down the window to snap at people kneeling on the road in their traditional costumes.
Our friends told us that it was not the only occasion that they close the road. There’s a bigger public ceremony also held once a year when the Balinese would deliberately impose a total blackout, turning off even small gadgets like phones and iPods, so everyone would be reminded of the need to tune in to nature.
When that day comes, Anton said he would take a vacation outside the island, usually going to somewhere north of Java to avoid the blackout. But I’d love to go back to Bali to witness this strange event, when everyone will just go into meditation away from technology.
But in the meantime, I can’t help but think of the band “Rage Against the Machine” as an impossible soundtrack for that.