Barong Landung & Ratu Gede (Hobart 2003)

Angela Hobart, in 'Healing performances of Bali: between darkness and light' (2003), deals with the subject of healing in Bali. Her field research in Tegallalang (Gianyar) and other places in South Bali, took her about ten years (1989-1999). Below excerpts discuss Ratu Gede Macaling and the possible links with Barong Landung, based on a mythological tale originating from Kintamani, a Bali Aga village near Lake Batur. Quotations from her book are given in inverted commas.

Ratu Gede Macaling

hobart healing2003 00cover(p.18) 'A demonic-protective cult deity, called Ratu Gede Macaling, the Great Fanged Lord, from the temple Dalem Peed, on the arid island of Nusa Penida, off southern Bali, is feared and venerated by villagers and healers who may still supplicate him for regenerative power. The Great Fanged Lord is probably of less ancient origin than the other cult deities, although he goes back to the era of the Balinese Kingdoms. He is not represented by a masked figure. Some locals identify him with the masked black giant, Barong Landung, who sings and dances with his wife during the festival Galungan (see Covarrubias, 1965:355). The black giant may also portray a Dravidian from ancient India (Bandem and de Boer, 1981:143; Emigh, 1996:91). During the wet season, between the months of February and March, the Great Fanged Lord is said to enter Bali with his troops of wild demons (buta bregala): in their wake they bring the dreaded cholera epidemic. Barong Ket and Rangda have not been invariably linked (Belo, 1966: 28). Processions with different masked figures go around the hamlets during the humid season in order to banish evil forces and progressively imbue the communities with the ordering qualities of the gods. Youngsters in southern Bali may also carry around fierce masks, 'ogoh-ogoh', that manifest ferocious men, ogres or Rangda, made out of cardboard or wood, with the intent to combat malign agents. Outbreaks of cholera were feared in Bali until recently, although few cases of the disease are reported these days.'

The Huge Couple, Barong Landung and Barong Isteri

(p.153) 'The giant puppets representing and elderly couple are well-known and beloved in Tegallalang. The populace revere the couple for their potential to cure and (p.154) bring fertility. Hence they are often said to be the vehicles of Wisnu, the god of water and fecundity. The figures may also be associated with the Great Fanged Lord, Jero Gede Macaling, the demonic deity from the nearby island of Nusa Penida. Although the couple, like other Barongs, embody totalizing power, it is their social regenerative potential that the villagers focus on.'

'The male, Jero Gede, is a towering, martial-looking, figure. Black, shaggy, human hair hangs from his head, accentuating the darkness of the mask. His eyes are deep set and his forehead low. The bushy white eyebrows and moustache are made from the hair of a civet cat. His white buckteeth, puckish, round nose and cheeks indicate his comical, playful disposition. The figure, when animated by a performer, swaggers about in a black, long-sleeved shirt and a wraparound cloth which is characterised by large black and white checks, 'poleng'. Poleng textiles are ancient and of local origin (Hauser-Schäublin et al, 1991:82). Guardian figures of temples are wrapped in such cloths, as are slit-gong sanctuaries. The black and white checks symbolise day and night, celestial light and demonic gloom (ruwa bineda). (p.155) The squares of grey, formed at the points where the black and white intersect, highlights the fact that no extreme exists without its counterpart. The pattern of the cloth accommodates perceptual paradox, in line with Jero Gede's awe-inspiring, ludic, imagery which hints at the absurdity of the human condition that defies any acceptable rational explanation.'

hobart healing 154 landung malehobart healing2003 155 jeroluh

Images above: (left) 'Figure 5.5 Magical cloth of Barong Landung. Lord who resides in the World' & (right) 'Figure 5.6 Magical cloth of Barong Isteri: Lady of Compassion. 'Both images are drawn by I Gusti Sudara. (Originals in palm leaf manuscript)'

'Jero Gede's magic cloth (Figure 5.5) actualises his fierce protectiveness that asserts itself against malign forces that seek to invade the community. The savage looking (aeng) figure on the cloth is Sang Hyang Lingga Buwana, Lord who resides in the world. The secret enclosed signs (modre), to either side of his head indicate that he is laughing at enemies who dare to approach him. His weapons are clubs and triple-spiked thunderbolts.'

'Jero Gede's wife, Jero Luh, equals him in height and splendour. While she is calm and elegant, she is also prim and coy. Her painted, wooden mask, like that of her husband, is brilliantly lacquered. Her white skin and slanting eyes betray her Chinese ancestry. She has a pointed forehead and chin and an enigmatic slight smile. Her ivory cheeks are enhanced by curves of gold and her hair, made of sugar-cane fibre (ijuk) dyed a dust-yellow, is swept into a bun at the nape of the neck. As modest, she wears no ear-plugs (subeng) in her distended earlobes. Her golden, tiered headdress, and pale tight-fitting costume give her poise. Jero Luh is referred to as the lady of compassion (kapiolasan). Ritual specialists say that the awesome head on Jero Luh's magic cloth (Figure 5.6) materialises her protective awareness of others. It is (p.156) evident that the magic cloths of this giant couple focus on their ordering powers; it is these that allow the figures to become efficacious in dreams and performances.' 

Myth: Barong Landung and Barong Isteri, the Giant Couple & Ratu Gede

hobart healing2003 XX Landunghobart healing2003 179 landung

Images above: (left) 'Coloured Plate 5: The couple, Barong Landung and Barong Isteri, walking through villages during the festival Galungan. Photographed by A. Leemann', & (right) 'Plate 6.2 The couple, Barong Landung and Barong Isteri, in the village temple where they are worshipped. Photographed by A.Hobart'

In below mythological tale from Kintamani the origins of Barong Landung are found. As this region is home to many Bali Aga villages as Trunyan, Songan etc., the relation of Barong Landung and Ratu Gede (Macaling?) - and, thus, Nusa Penida - could be asserted, as in Nusa Penida descendants reside from this mountainous area, as has become clear from interviews with Pak Sani. This way, untraced yet ubiquitous tales of the relationship between Barong Landung and Ratu Gede Macaling could be explained. An indication supporting this assumption is the description of the king (Raja Dalem), who, according to below myth, was 'an ugly, dark man', reminiscent of Raja Bedahulu or Astasura Ratna Bumi Banten from Bedahulu (Gianyar), who was vanquished by Majapahit from Java in 1343. This assumption, however, is uncertain and needs verification.

(p.128) 'The King, Raja Dalem, in one of the villages in the mountainous areas of Kintamani, was married to a wife called Dewa Danu, Lady of the Lake, as her home of origin was near lake Batur. She became pregnant. Soon afterwards the king travelled southwards. In a market place he met a beautiful female merchant selling cloths at one of the stalls. She was Chinese. Her name was Cang Cing Wei. He became instantly infatuated with her and spoke seductively to her. He asked her whether she already had a husband. When he received a negative reply he invited her to become his wife and accompany him to his palace. Although the king was an ugly, dark man, he had a mellow, rich, voice and congenial manner, and she consented.'

'Dewi Danu was furious when she encountered her husband with his new wife, whom he had married on the quiet. She shouted at the couple, pointing out that the king had acted deceitfully. The two women quarreled incessantly. The queen had dangerous, ambiguous, powers at her disposal. She used these to burn the couple so that nothing was left of them except a small mound of ash. Dewa Danu brought the ash to a shrine on Mount Penulisan. The populace from the area came regularly to worship at the shrine, so honouring the couple who were known for their gracious disposition.'

(p.129) 'A craftsman fashioned out of wood a male and female figure who resembled the couple, and paid homage to them. Their spirits entered the giant images. In most of Bali they are referred to as Ratu Gede. In one area of Karangasem, in the west, they are called Ratu Dang, Ding, Dong. The musical alliteration resonates with the rhythms of the seasons. Perhaps this is appropriate as the couple are associated with the fertility of the land and rice growing. Their sexual organs may be evident in a ceremonial context.'

Further references to the image of Ratu Gede (Macaling) and its various manifestations around the south coast of mainland Bali can be found in Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin's article (excerpts).

Bibiography (Hobart, quoted in above text)

  • Bandem, I.M. and de Boer, F.E. - Kaja and Kelod: Balinese Dance in Transition, Oxford, Osford University Press, 1981
  • Belo, J. - Bali: Tangda and Barong, Mopnograph of the American Ethnological Society, No.16, Seattl, University of Washington Press, 1949/1966
  • Covarrubias, Miguel – Island of Bali, with an album of photographs by Rose Covarrubias, Periplus Singapore (1946/1965), 417p
  • Emigh, J. - Masked Performances: The Play of Self and Other in Ritual and Theatre, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996
  • Hauser-Schäublin, B. Nabholz-Kartaschoff, M.L., & Ramseyer, U. - Balinese Textiles, London, British Museum Press, 1991


  • Hobart, Angela - Healing performances of Bali: between darkness and light; Berghahn Books, 2003, 272pp.

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