Happy Neypi (Happy New Year)
Note: Click on the blue “Chaos and Quiet” heading above (if you have it) for best viewing
This morning dawned bright blue, dead quiet and crisply cool for Bali. It is Neypi, The Day of Silence, marking the Balinese New Year. The volcanoes rise majestic, the skies are clear of aircraft and the streets empty of both foot and motor traffic. The only sound is the roosters. My meals for today were purchased yesterday and stored in the family refrigerator.
Giant ogoh ogohs were carried down the streets on bamboo platforms, by as many as 30 men.
What a sight and what skill is required to work in unison, manipulating these enormous monsters into position, dipping under and around obstacles and sliding through a field muddy from afternoon showers.
Last month I ventured into banjars to observe the initial construction: a single bamboo anchor topped by a chicken-wire frame then, usually, styrofoam sculpted into exquisite forms that seem to take on a life of their own. Finally, many layers of paper mâché are applied and finished to a realistic smooth texture, then painted. Note the extensive bamboo scaffolding. I asked myself repeatedly, “Who in this small village has the imagination, foresight and engineering know-how to envision and create this piece of art?” After the primary finishing comes the fun and artful part…the glittering trim, bright paint, false hair, jumping flames, interior lights and, finally, the frightening, powerful head and face.
Sumantra took me out on his motorbike to photograph the near-complete ogoh ogohs the afternoon before the great event. Last-minute touches were completed by large groups of men while women provided refreshments. Children nearby create their own ogoh ogohs, starting at age two.
They’re quite impressive and I could see how this tradition is encouraged and supported throughout a lifetime. They also carry their ogoh ogohs on bamboo frames on the parade route with a minimum of adult supervision.
Now comes the day the island has been waiting for … this year March 30, the eve before Neypi. At 6:00 the completed ogoh ogohs gather in the soccer field where excitement builds among the observers and cameras flash and jostle for best view. As dark approaches, they are paraded for hours through the village streets, gathering up all the dark spirits.
The parade culminates at the cemetery where the ogoh ogohs are cremated, carrying all evil spirits away into the night. The next Day of Silence fools the dark spirits into believing the island is uninhabited so they will not return
On my return home, the parade was approaching our front gate. I grabbed a flashlight and ran to join the family on the front steps in search of Sumantra among the gamelan performers. It was a loud, loose and enthusiastic crowd. I was especially intrigued with the men who stayed just ahead of the ogoh ogohs. They watched the height, did a quick mental calculation and, if they felt it wouldn’t fit beneath the electrical wires, they used bamboo rods to push the wires up sufficiently to pass beneath. Can you see this stateside? Needless to say, there was an hour where the power went out and we walked through the compound by candlelight. That’s another sweet memory.
Postscript: it’s night and I just stepped out on my high balcony. There is darkness and silence as far as the eye can see. Even the roosters are silent. The constellations shine bright and different from home. Imagine an entire island in blackness. I hope I never forget.