Kawitan: Creating Childhood in Bali
This informative and compelling documentary systematically examines the key Balinese early-life ceremonies at every social level in South Bali. Through ceremonies, Balinese culture and performance are linked, with specific musical expression as a common characteristic. The focus of the film is both ethnographic and ethnomusicological as it explores the relationship between Balinese music, movement, ritual, and identity.
To illustrate the centrality of performance to Balinese belief and ritual, the film opens with a compact prologue in “wayang” (shadow-play) and sacred song, recounting the creation of the universe, the five elements, and the first humans. In the first early-life ceremony, a pregnant woman bathes where sacred springs meet. This provides for a safe delivery, and associated ceremonies transform sexual energies into parental devotion.
The film shows daily offerings to spirits surrounding a newborn, and depicts in detail the protective calendrical ceremonies: past-life debts are released in a holy-water purification at six weeks; a first step on the earth is celebrated at three Balinese months; a first haircut and naming ceremony take place at one Balinese year; and an elaborate ceremony to strengthen the spirit guardians is held on a child’s third Balinese birthday. The symbolism and significance of the ceremonies are explained by the distinguished priests who actually officiate.
In addition, the film affords a rare view of a family consulting a traditional psychic channeler to learn which ancestor has reincarnated in a newborn child, and follows a six-year-old as he commits to serious music study. Renowned musician I Wayan Suweca comments on the intergenerational transmission of artistic power (“taksu”) in Balinese life.
Kawitan is the first film (see also Kahyangan: The Balinese Journey of the Soul) in a projected cycle of documentaries portraying the seven life ceremonies and seven after-life ceremonies in Balinese Hindu-Buddhist religion and culture. The film is a collaboration between ethnomusicologist Linda Burman-Hall and director Eli Hollander, both of University of California Santa Cruz. It will stimulate thought and discussion in a variety of courses in Asian and Balinese studies, cultural anthropology, ethnomusicology, and religion.