Don’t play with fire is a classic saying, right? It doesn’t seem to apply to the locals of Tuban, Bali.
Instead of dodging fire, they wage a fire war, known as siat geni.
It’s not a real war, fighting over territory or domination of one another. It is part of the ancestral heritage of the residents in Tuban Traditional Village.
Starting around 1480, the fire war ritual takes place once a year – on the fourth full moon.
Here is everything you need to know about Siat Geni.
What is Siat Geni?
Siat geni or mesiat geni is the tradition of, literally, throwing fire at your opponent with burnt, dry coconut fibers.
Traditionally, the Siat Geni procession starts with the ritual slaughtering of a pig, which is dedicated to Sang Kala. Offerings are also made to Kala Wisaya with the slaughtering of a two-legged animal.
Drops of blood from the animals are poured on the side of the Tuban temple for 5 consecutive days. It is also poured at Pasar Agung, as an offering for Kala Katung, and in the middle of the grand crossroad for Kala Ngadang.
After the build-up rituals are over, young men pray to ask for safety, while being sprinkled with water, cleaning the body and mind.
Two groups start the Siat Geni tradition – only unmarried men are allowed to participate, while young women perform a Pendet dance. Each group consists of up to 40-60 people!
Before fighting, the Siat Geni fighters are given a splash of Tirtha Pasupati (distilled water) to keep the skin immune and avoid injury.
And then it begins.. Coconut fibers are burnt and distributed to every young man. They take turns to ‘attack’ and defend, directed by a leader.
They attack each other’s head and bodies, until a grand fire starts. It’s an incredible sight, as the embers scatter.
Surprisingly, no one is injured, as everyone has performed the special ritual before, and they believe they are being protected by God.
Don’t try it at home!
Why is Siat Geni Important?
The purpose of siat geni is to eliminate leteh (filth), and burn the evil desires that exist in humans. Balinese people believe that the fire war will help to bring safety to the people of Tuban.
The History of Siat Geni
There is an interesting background to siat geni.
When Gods and Goddesses descended to earth, they were followed by their advisors (maha patih). One of the patihs was Kala Geni Ludra, who had the power of fire.
A fire was built to welcome the Kala Geni, to keep him happy. Using the fire to help his mood, the hope was that he would use his powers to cleanse the filth – instead of burning down the village.
Different from other traditional ceremonies in Bali, the fire ritual is not just for the Gods or Betara. It is intended for the Guardian of the Gods. who guards the local village.
What to do During Siat Geni
Siat Geni is a not only a traditional ritual, but also a cultural attraction that serves as entertainment for local residents and foreign tourists.
Hundreds of youths are involved in this war, and hundreds of others watch.
Since its fire, of course the most important thing to do while watching is to be careful and aware of the surroundings. There can be chaos with the fire starts and thick smoke fills the air!
Here are some tips:
- Keep your distance – watch your step and don’t approach if the situation looks dangerous
- Get a tour guide – when you hire a local tour guide, they will know what to do, where you should go and what the best way to respect the ritual
- Do not interfere – show respect, no matter your thoughts on the practice
- Wear traditional dress – join the crowds and blend in with locals by wearing Balinese traditional dress
- Menstruating women are not suggested to enter the ritual area – for Hindus, menstrual blood is considered dirty and will make the temple impure
Other Fire Wars in Bali
Besides Siat Geni, Bali also has another fire war tradition! It’s called Mesabatan Api, usually held in Nagi Village, Ubud.
The procession is similar, but there are differences:
- Mesabatan Api is used to destroy bhuta kala (evil spirits) in humans.
- Mesabatan Api is held every year on the night before Nyepi.
- This fire war is a fight of guts and courage. The youths do so consciously, without being in a trance or under the influence of alcohol.
Both Siat Geni and Mesabatan Api are done with no malice. At the end of the ritual, everyone shakes hands and makes peace.