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Observations placeholder

The Balinese ketjak (kecak)



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Indonesia, Bali, Kecak dance, Borobudur, Bromo

Shamanism, music and the soul – Keith Howard

… the Balinese ketjak (kecak) which, according to David Lewiston:

is a creation of this century, but descended from something much more ancient - the trance dance, dance of exorcism called sanghyang ... Most of the movements are exorcistic in origin and contribute together to produce a tremendous unity of mood ... to drive out evil by an incantation.

To Indonesians, the ritual still involves a communal exorcism to avoid or expel pestilence, and is reported to continue in the south-central districts of Gianyar and Badung. The exorcism itself is done by performers in trance, incessantly hocketing while rocking in movement, gradually accelerating until they move frantically forward and back in a tightly packed space. The resultant dissociation parallels Sach's Dervishes. But, as Eliade notes, specialist practitioners need to retain consciousness if they are to exercise control. Chanting is done by others, who do not enter trance.

This begins to challenge the validity of the pre-modern notion of shamanism, and the distinction between charismatic shamans and non-ecstatic priests, for two chanters sit within the group of ketjak chanters, the juru tarek chorus leader who signals starts, stops and transitions, and the juru gending melodic leader, singing repetitive melodies.

These are joined by the juru klempung, shouting out regular punctuation, and in effect acting as a drumless percussionist.  Similarly, senior leaders guide the Dervish dancers from the periphery of the circle. Healing, though, differs in the two traditions. In the ketjak it is the community, all the men who take part, who are made whole, whereas among the Dervishes, it is the individual dancer who seeks to move close to the Deity.

The source of the experience


Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps