Indonesia is home to many mystical rituals, both in the form of a ceremony or of a dance. One example is the Seblang dance. Seblang is a trance ritual dance that one can only witness in the two villages Bakungan or Olehsari in the district Glagah, Banyuwangi.

Seblang dancer in the mytical ritual in Banyuwangi

In the village Bakungan the ritual covers one day and is performed at night. In Olehsari (also Ulihsari) the activities go on for seven days during the day. In the ritual the dancer is put into a trance to be possessed by a spirit. It is said by the inhabitants of the two villages to be the oldest and most potent ritual in the Banyuwangi area. In the course of the proceedings the villagers establish contact with both ancestral and guardian spirits in order to promote the welfare of the community, to keep the land fertile, and to ensure the success of the next crop (Wessing, R., 1999).


The dancers of the Seblang ritual dance in Banyuwangi

A shaman chooses the dancers who will have to be descendants of former Seblang dancers. In the village Olehsari the dancer will have to be an immature girl, while in Bakungan dancers must be women aged 50 years or older and should be in the menopause.

The Seblang dance begins with an opening ceremony directed by the village shaman. The shaman sprinkles the dancers with incense as he recites a spell. After the dancers are possessed (or kejiman in local terms), they start dancing with their eyes closed and make monotonous movements to the rhythm that is being played. They dance for about 5 hours. The musical performance in Bakungan village consists of only a single drum, a gong and a fruit kempul or two saron. In Olehsari village the orchestra adds a violin.

Conformity to other trance dances in Indonesia

The ritual is similar to trance and possession phenomena elsewhere in Indonesia, such as the sanghyang of Bali, the sintren of West Java and the sintring of Madura. These performances have a similar goal, namely promoting individual and community welfare.
Ancestors generally watch over the welfare and prosperity of the village. In return the villagers honour ancestral customs and give these spirits their ritual due (Wessing, R., 1999).

Clothing and crowns

The costum of the Seblang dancers differs a bit between both villages, with the main difference in the crowns ("omprok") they wear. The crown of the Seblang dancers in Olehsari is made from the material of a banana tree topped with fresh flowers and a small mirror. The crown of the dancers in Bakungan is made from the same materials but less abundant. Besides the elements of mysticism, the ritual dance also provides entertainment for visitors and local residents, as a lot of funny scenes are being played by the dancers.

Witness the cultural Seblang dance

Interested in the mystic Seblang Dance? Visit the villages Bakungan and Olehsari in the second week of July and the third week of September, 2016. Combine a visit with a tour to the Ijen crater lake and the Ijen Plateau. It guarantees a beautiful experience.

Literature

Robbert Wessing (1999), A dance of life; the Seblang of Banyuwangi, Indonesia, Bijdrage tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 155-4.