Kuta: The Nyale-ritual

From Sade it’s just a small jump to the southern coast near the Kuta village (markets on Sundays). The area is used for the construction of hotels, but still is a reasonably quiet place. We can also find lodges there, as well as restaurants. The nature along the eight-kilometer coastal road from Kuta to Tanjung Aan and Grupuk, which runs close to the beach of the bay, is just splendid.

Kuta beach is home to one of the most remarkable annual rituals of Lombok, the Bau Nyale. Every year, five to seven days after the second full moon (usually in February, sometimes in March) a sea worm living under the limestone rocks, starts it’s reproduction cycle by sending eggs and seamen to the surface of the sea. This same event also takes place elsewhere in Indonesia, for example on Sumba, where it is the start of the Pasola ritual.

Lombok population believes -just like the Sumbanese- that the numbers of these nyale, as well as several aspects of their behavior, have a direct influence on the coming harvests of rice. There is a legend about a beautiful princess, which was desperate because of the many fighting candidates for marriage and threw herself into the sea. From her hair, the nyale were born. A legend of the same kind is used on Sumba.

Just before the appearance of the nyale, thousands of people spend their nights on the beach of Kuta. When the worms are seen, the ritual is opened by the mangku, the leader of the traditions. The fertility aspect of the ritual is shaped into a form, which unique to Lombok, a conservative community in which young men of variable age have little possibilities of contact. During the nyale-festivities, parents are less strict for their daughters, and young people can have contact with each other without control, but only in groups. Courtesy is only allowed in public; not everything is possible.

Young men and women, dressed to their best, form separate groups and walk around to see what is available. Flirting is done by poetic songs and sub tile word games; the opposite of macho behavior. There is a good, happy atmosphere. As sunrise the youngsters get to sea in boats to collect the worms. Later on these animals are consumed in different ways: raw, mixed with coconut, grilled, salted and fermented partially. They are also kept in bamboo. It is said that eating nyale-worms stimulates sexual behaviors.

The government is looking for ways to make the ritual more attractive for tourists. For years, actors were hired to act as the princess from the legend. This is kind of useless, since the tradition is attractive enough. The ‘play’ belongs to the tourist hotels, but not on Kuta beach during the local rituals.

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