The mountain village of Trunyan is located at the foot of Mount Abang, at a remote and isolated location on the eastern shore of Lake Batur. The Trunyanese are often referred to as Bali Aga (mountain Balinese), a classification which refers to a conservative, pre-Hindu way of life with ancient, neolithic customs and a conscious avoidance of outside influences.
As the term "Bali Aga has acquired a negative connotation, the term Bali Mula, or 'original Balinese', is often used instead. However, the Bali Aga are in no sense 'original', while the term 'Mountain Balinese' is, from a historical perspective, completely apposite. The Bali Aga namely have always occupied their ancestral villages from choice, and performed their traditional crafts and trades appropriate to the nature of the land.
According to copper plate inscriptions in one of the shrines, the main temple of the village dates back to the 10th century AD (833 Çaka), although the village itself is believed to be much older than the temple.
Trunyanese society has two 'castes', the banjar jero and the banjar jaba. These castes are not based on the Hindu ideas of purity, but are instead determined by descent during the period of the Gelgel dynasty. This caste system is an important example of when outside influence actually did affect the life of the Trunyanese people, for those belonging to the banjar jero are the descendants of rulers, id est the Trunyanese who were appointed by the kings of Gelgel to rule, and those of the banjar jaba are the descendants of the people, id est those who were ruled by the banjar jero.
Another example of outside influence is the requirement for their young men to travel through lowland Bali for a time to live as beggars. This little known practice, reminiscent of the itinerant monks of Thailand, derives from the strong Buddhist tradition of the area a thousand years ago.
Prestige consciousness, which is so dominantly present everywhere in Bali, also plays an important role in the Trunyanese society, and the hosting of an major ceremony is the time when a family can raise prestige within the community. This manifests most clearly in the context of their wedding ceremonies, which "should be impressive or not held at all". As the economy of Trunyan is mainly based on agriculture, it is difficult for the Trunyanese to accumulate wealth. In this respect there are married couples with children in Trunyan who continue to postpone the wedding ceremony because of the expense. Besides, an official wedding ceremony in Trunyan is only allowed to take place after the male candidate has taken part in the Berutuk ceremony.
Funeral rites of Trunyan
Contrary to elswhere in Hindu Bali the Trunyanese do not cremate their dead. Instead, after a ritual cleansing with rain water, the body of the deceased is placed in a bamboo cage under the taru menyan tree until the forces of nature, in particular the wind, has dissolved the body tissues and only the skeleton remains. Then the skull is placed on a stairs-shaped stone altar which is located some 500 meter north of the banjar Kuban, a special place which can only be reached by boat.
This ancient practice is a reminicsent of the neolithic Agama Bayu sekt, one of the six most important religious-spiritual sekts that dominated Bali during pre-Hindu times. This Agama Bayu sekt mainly worshipped the stars and the wind.
Taru Menyan translates as 'nice smelling tree'. The typical scent this tree eminates, neutralizes the smell of rotting bodies. It is also this tree from which the name Trunyan is derived.
Furthermore typical for the funeral rites of Trunyan is that only the bodies of married people are placed in bamboo cages; if the deceased is unmarried, the body is normally buried at the cemetry.
Also typical is that women are not allowed to attend the Pengiriman ceremonies, the bringing of the body to the taru menyan tree or to the cemetry. The reason for this is the belief that otherwise the village will be struck by disaster, such as an earthquake, a volcanic eruption, or a land slide. How and when this rule came into being however is not clear.
Bhatara Da Tonta
Since long forgotten times Trunyan has been worshipping an ancient, local god connected to the Batur volcano and patron guardian of the village, Ratu Gede Pantjering Djagat - also referred to as Bhatara Da Tonta. In a for outsiders forbidden, underground space is an enormous, neolithic statue of this Bhatara Da Tonta. During special initiation rites of the village flowers are offered here and the statue is ritually cleansed with rain water and a special oil, precisely as instructed on an old bronze tablet (911 AD) that was found in the mysterious Pura Tegeh Koripan, a temple built in the form of a neolithic pyramid at Mount Penulisan, the second highest point of the caldera of the Batur volcano.
Music and dance in Trunyan
Like elsewhere in Bali, the performing arts are associated with religious ceremonies, and are a means to maintain a balance between the visible, physical world and the non-visible, multi-dimensional worlds. The Berutuk dance of Trunyan is an excellent example of a performance that is strongly associated with religious rites and supernatural powers.
The Berutuk dance
The dance is at once performance, ceremony, and rite. The performers are a selected group of unmarried men who must undergo a period of ritual purification and isolation prior to performing. During this time they sleep in the temple, abstain from sexual contact, and learn the prayers for the ceremony from the temple priest. The Berutuk performers wear sacred masks and two aprons of dried banana leaf fiber; one is tied around the neck and hangs over the torso and the other is tied around the waist. There is no musical accompaniment for the performance.
The historical legend of the Trunyan migration from the other Bali Aga areas in East Bali. However, this is not a mere dramatization. The Berutuk performance requires the purification of the actors and appropriate offerings and prayers which will allow the young men to be possessed by Bethara Berutuk. At one point, the Berutuk are presented with offerings and members of the audience barter with the Berutuk in order to take part of the offering. In addition, the banana fiber costumes are now charged with powerful magic and spectators attempt to steal bits of the hanging fibers which become protective amulets.
The king and queen Berutuk engage in a courtship dance inspired by the movements of a bird common to the Trunyan area and the queen must be successfully captured by the king in order to ensure the fertility of both the village of Trunyan as well as that of the performer himself. Only after the performance will the young men be eligible for official marriage. The performance ends after the queen is captured and the dancers bathe in the sacred Lake Batur.
The performances happen at irregular intervals depending on the needs of the villages and require that the village not be tainted, for example, by plague or crop failure.
The performers are not trained in the movement of the Berutuk but in the necessary prayers. It is not the dance technique but the selection and ritual preparation of the dancers that is important, as they will become temporary vessels for the Bethara Berutuk: Ratu Pancering Jagat. Thus, the performance places an emphasis on the ritual readiness of the performers, not technical training. It is a recounting of legendary history, a fertility rite for both land and humans, a passage into adulthood, and a time when the spirits enter humans and the tumultuous interaction between performer and audience mimics the interaction between the human, spirit, and natural worlds.