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The Maluku Islands are an archipelago in Indonesia, and part of the larger Maritime Southeast Asia region. Tectonically they are located on the Halmahera Plate within the Molucca Sea Collision Zone. Geographically they are located east of Sulawesi, west of New Guinea, and north of Timor. The islands were also historically known as the Spice Islands by the Chinese and Europeans, but this term has also been applied to other islands.

Bambu Gila
Mystical dance from Maluku

When you year the name Bambu Gila, you will most likely think of a special kind of bamboo. This is not entirely wrong, since a special type of bamboo is used to perform this traditional dance originating from the Molucca's, but it's more than just that.

Bambu Gila is a dance with mythical elements from the past. Up to seven strong men will enter the 'fight' against a piece of bamboo up to two and a half meter long and a diameter of ten centimeters. You will notice that it's much more than just a simple dance with a piece of bamboo when you are actually attenting one of these dances. It almost approaches a supernatural experience.

The dance is also known under the name buluh Gila and Bara Suwen and is often performed as a showdown between two villages; Desa Liang in district of Salahatu and Desa Mamala in the district of Leihitu. Both are in the region Central Molucca's in the province North Maluku. This attraction has a strong mythical background and is nowadays also performed in the city of Ternate and surroundings.

The dance starts with burning of raisin from the kemenyan tree, which is known for it's healing powers. Mantra's are read in the local language, which still is a strong tradition in the Molucca's. The smoke of the burning kemenyan raisin is blown into the piece of bamboo to be used in the dance later on. Those who were reciting their mantra's chew on ginger, that is later swiped onto the piece of bamboo as well.

The use of kemenyan raisen and ginger is to call for the spirits to they can transfer their mystical powers to the piece of bamboo. The power of these spirits will soon cause the bamboo to move on it's own. The longer the dance is performed, the stronger this behaviour gets and thus it will become increasingly difficult to control the bamboo during the dance.

There are several other related events around the mysterious dance. Peope that are joining the dance are posessed by mystical spirits that transfer themselves to the piece of bamboo during the dance. This process starts when a leader is reciting mantra's. The people participating in the dance shout 'Gila! Gila! Gila!, which is the official starting point of the dance. The seven men will soon notice that the piece of bamboo in their hands will start moving on it's own, Bambu Gila.

It appears that the bamboo is starting to move on it's own as soon as it is douzed in the smoke of the raisin and the ginger. The men that hold on to the piece of bamboo will soon have to work hard to remain in control of the bamboo and prevent it from getting uncontrolable. When the pace of the music is increasing, the bamboo feels increasingly heady. More force is needed to keep control, so much in fact that some of the participants may even faint at the end of the dance. The 'crazy bamboo' then has to be tamed, but this is done by burning a piece of paper.

The bamboo that is used for this mystial dance is a local typ of bamboo that has been selected on several points. Permission is asked to the spirits first before the bamboo is taken from the forest. The bamboo is then cut down in traditional manner and cleaned before it is to be used in the Bambu Gila dance.

The origins of this dance are not entirely clear. The dance was performed here already before Christianity or Islam entered the islands. Nowadays the mystical dance is only performed in a number of small villages. This makes it an unique experience to witness this dance. The mantra's and the bamboo dance itself can not be found elsewhere in the world in this form and are guaranteed to make this into an unforgettable experience.

Last revised on May 20, 2011
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