They had perky boobs… and long, bony fingernails. Their wig-like black manes traveled down their giant bodies. They looked at me- their faces cocked and contorted into hard stares of repulsion and aggression. Hello, scary, topless creatures.
As Kate and I strolled down a side street in Ubud, we were intrigued by these monsters who were towering above small crowds of Indonesian people. They were being poked and prodded, and their sarongs were being adjusted.
The fitting name for each monster is an Ogah Ogah. They show their intimidating faces at the yearly Ngrupuk Parade, a festive New Year’s Eve ceremony in Bali. As travel serendipity would have it, we were in idyllic Ubud on the night of their debut. Woohoo!
The designs and personalities of each Ogah Ogah differ greatly, but collectively, Ogah Ogahs are only a small slice of the creatures unique to Balinese Hinduism (which is QUITE a fascinating religion, if I do say so myself).
Around six in the evening, children and artists from villages all over Ubud proudly carried their handcrafted Ogah Ogahs up and down Wenara Wana Street. They were followed by bands of dolled up teens pounding on a moving gamelan- a traditional set of percussion instruments that produce hollow yet sharp, clanky sounds. (Think Asian sounds.) The beasts balanced and bounced to the beat on their tip-toes, atop decorated boxes on bamboo platforms.
The darker it got, the louder the music became- a percussive explosion indistinguishable from banging pots and pans together rapidly. The bamboo platforms found the hands of young men. Torches were lit, and the crazed looks of the beasts were intensified by the fire, as was the energy of the crowd.
While parading, the men vigorously shook the bamboo platforms they were holding, jiggling the styrofoam bodies of the ogah ogahs to create eerily realistic movements. This is precisely what they had been designed and brought to life for; the ferocious demeanor and human like movements of the Ogah Ogahs would scare away any demons or other evil in the area.
Shit got real. It was like Macy’s Day Parade had overdosed and was entering an epileptic fit.
The metallophone picked up speed as an Indonesian man tucked into a traditional sarong shouted for everyone to MOVE BACK! The beasts swayed precariously as their bamboo platforms were lifted higher than the shoulders of the men who were carrying it.
The group of men underneath the first Ogah Ogah ran full speed until they hit the small T-juntion of Wenara Wana and Raya Ubud Street, where they spun around several times, which sent the whole crowd swaying and toppling over each other to avoid a face full of Bamboo.
Repeat, repeat, repeat until every beast had its moment of spinning glory.
Let’s be honest, I thought I was going to get killed by an absurdly large and angry Styrofoam creature who would come unglued from his platform. But was I willing to take that chance? Hell yes. I couldn’t come up with a better freak accident if I tried.
The power in the street went out at one point, and if it was done on purpose, it was a nice dramatic effect. However, the likelier scenario was that the forehead of an Ogah Ogah had somehow not cleared the power lines, even though special long poles were used to lift up the wires.
Power or no power, each bodacious, detailed masterpiece was carried down Wenara Wana runway like royalty.
The Ogah Ogahs were carried off in different directions after the ceremony. Some were torn to bits in open fields, and their body parts were karate chopped by young, fiesty boys. Some were burned, and the rest were left in piles around Ubud. Come dawn, Bali would be a different world…
The parade was a prequel to Nyepi- New Years Day in Bali and the start of the Balinese saka calendar. (In 2014, the day was March 31st, but the date changes depending on the moon phases.) It is a day lived in stark contrast to the night before. Not a plane flies out the airport in Bali. There are no motorbikes on the roads, no electricity, and no one leaves their house. Not even foreigners are able to leave their hostel and hotels. It is a day of silence. A whole day of doing nothing.
In my 24 hours of strenuous reflection, I came to terms with serious burrito cravings, felt extreme gratitude for my life experiences, and took advice from an Ogah Ogah: put on your game face, confront the evil in your life, and scare the hell out of people when you storm the street, doing what you were meant to do.