Buleleng regency in North Bali is a cultural melting pot where people of diverse ethnicities live side by side in harmony. Unlike other parts of the island of Bali, Buleleng is known to be home to the Balinese, Bugis, Madurese, Javanese, and people of Arab and Chinese descent; each retaining their own rich social, cultural and religious backgrounds.
With its role as the island's once important harbor, Buleleng and its capital city of Singaraja, some 90 kilometers north of Denpasar, welcomed domestic and foreign traders to conduct business in the city, who ended up settling here for generations. The richness of Buleleng's culture was vividly highlighted in the current Buleleng Arts Festival, held from May 28 through June 2.
The festival, themed Sang Kala (The time) involves artists from the regency's nine districts - Seririt, Busungbiu, Kubutambahan, Tejakula, Sawan, Sukasada, Buleleng, Gerokgak and Banjar. Many people see Buleleng arts as lacking in "Balinese artistic sophistication" found in other areas such as Denpasar and Gianyar. Yet, others believe the long process of assimilation and acculturalization with other artistic elements derived from various ethnicities has really enriched the local arts scene.
"This arts festival will become a telling reminder for the Balinese people in particular and the Indonesian people about the wisdom of blending diverse forms of cultural richness," commented Buleleng regent Putu Bagiada when opening the festival last week. "The festival is also aimed at preserving our cultural heritage and it is expected that the local artists could enhance their artistic endeavors and could create new innovative works," the regent added.
During the first day of the festival, a group of Chinese-Indonesian artists performed their trademark Lion dance. Filled with attractive movements and colorful costumes, the dance attracted many people. Artists from Banjar Temukus staged a Hadrah poetry recital, which was rich in Islamic influence. Buleleng is home to numerous Muslim communities.
Another Islamic art performance Bordah and Sokok was also presented by the Pegayaman Muslim community in Sukasada village. Bordah is a religious song in honor of Prophet Muhammad. Choirs usually perform Bordah during Maulid or the birthday of the Prophet. Islamic arts were also presented by artists from the Bugis village. Bugis people originally came from South Sulawesi. The seafaring Bugis community are known as daring sailors and fishermen.
Since ancient times, the Bugis have been traveling across Asian and Australian waters. The Bugis people now reside in many parts of Indonesia including Singaraja and in several villages in Buleleng regency. The Bugis artists blended South Sulawesi arts, Islamic and Balinese artistic elements. They performed music, dance and martial arts.
A parade of dozens of beautiful young artists from the nine districts enlivened the otherwise quiet Singaraja. Rengganis, a traditional a capella choir, performed a stunning gamelan (traditional orchestra) using their voices. The harmonious sounds of a gamelan orchestra including the gong, ceng-ceng (a percussion instrument similar to a tambourine), and other instruments were excellently produced by the choir. Another touching performance was presented by a number of deaf and mute artists from Bengkala village, some 15 kilometers east of Singaraja. The majority of the people in the village are deaf and mute. It is not known whether it is genetically inherited, but numerous villagers, young and old, are born deaf and mute. The Bengkala artists displayed their talent by performing Janger Kolok, the deaf and mute dance.
Tari Gandrung, or the Gandrung Dance, also entertained the audience. A group of male dancers, some dressed as women, performed the dance as couples. The dance is usually performed during the Pujawali religious festival and has been performed for centuries in Busungbiu village. The week-long Buleleng Arts Festival truly highlighted the different faces of Balinese arts. The festival successfully brought together artists from various background thus presenting a large variety of artistic creations ranging from the Chinese Lion Dance, Sam Pek Eng Tay theatrical show, Gong Drama, Wayang Kulit Kreasi (the New Creation of two-dimensional Leather Puppet), Gong Kebyar (Gong Orchestra) to a Balinese pop music performance.
The festival, which cost around Rp 330 million, needs to be improved in terms of its physical facilities. "Many performing art groups have performed high-quality works, but we still don't have adequate facilities including a theater building or other venues to regularly stage their works," exclaimed Putu Satria, a festival coordinator. Compared to other regencies, Buleleng spent less to organize the arts festival. "Other regencies would spend at least Rp 500 million to support various art activities," Putu added.
Currently, Buleleng has two art centers, Sasana Budaya and Gede Manik, both lacking in supporting facilities. Sasana Budaya is too small to stage a large-scale art performance, while Gede Manik does not have a standard sound and lighting system required for a good show. However, despite the lack of facilities, Buleleng artists are still thriving.