BAU NYALE FESTIVAL – 27&28 FEBRUARY
Lombok-festival
One of Lombok’s most important and popular festivals is “Bau Nyale” – a unique event that attracts thousands of visitors to the south coast every year. Many visitors to Lombok plan their trip to coincide with Bau Nyale.
Bau Nyale (meaning “ to catch Nyale” in the local sasak language) is a cultural tradition said to date back to the 16th century and is centred on the seasonal appearance of Nyale ( a variety of palolo worm found in tropical waters in certain parts of the world, including Lombok).
Once a year – when seasonal, marine and lunar conditions combine – the Nyale come to certain beaches around Lombok to spawn and, for e few days, the seas are filled whit wriggling sea worms in variety of colours, ranging from simple brown to red, blue and green.
Bau Nyale, or the Nyale Festival, takes place every year in the tenth month of the lunar sasak calendar and is celebrated in either February or March each year.
This year’s festival will be held on Saturday, 27 and Sunday, 28 February.
Over the two days of Bau Nyale festival, guests will be entertained by pre-event performances such as traditional dancing and music, the election of this year’s “Princess Mandalika”,Gendang Beleq (featuring the big drums for which Lombok is famous), peresean (traditional stick fighting competitions), a cultural parade, and more.
The main “ Core Event” will take place on Sunday night, 28 February at Seger Beach, around 5kms to the east of Kuta.
Every year tens of thousands of people amass on the small road leading to the beach; typical waits for entrance can stretch to two hours. This doesn’t, however, deter the crowds and overall festive atmosphere.
On the land surrounding the beach, tents and stalls are set up selling food and drinks and foods and thousands of spectactors sit surrounding the main stage where the different performances are held.
The highlight of the festival is the theatrical dance and music drama which re-enacts the legend of putri (princess) Mandalika and is the basis for the magic surrounding the Bau Nyale festival.
According to the legend, Putri Mandalika was the daughter of the king of Tonjang Beru – a large and prosperous kingdom in South Lombok – and was known throughout the land for her beauty, wisdom and kindness.
When she was of suitable age to marry, princes and suitors from all over the island travelled to the kingdom to ask for her hand. So many men wanted to marry her that it began to cause trouble between the different kingdoms and the princess became unable to choose between them without her decision causing further strife.
For days the princes competed for the princess, leading to tensions and threats of war between the rival kingdoms. Finally the princess’ father gathered all the rivals together and instructed Princess Mandalika to choose her husband before sunrise the next morning.
Thousands of people gathered on whath is now Seger Beach to see the princess choose her husband but, fearful of cousing a war, Princess Mandalika declared that – even if she love one of the suitors – she loved her parents and her kingdom too much to cuase strif.
Declaring that, rather than choose one person she would give her self to everyone, she threw her self into the sea from the promontory overlooking Seger Beach and disappeared into the waves.
Everyone searched the sea for the princess, but instead they found masses of colourtul sea – worms, called Nyale.
According to a local priest, or Dukun, the princess’s body had been transformed into these sea worms, and thus they became symbol for the sasak people.
Other legends say that the long strands of the Nyale worms are the princess’s hair, floating in the water where she drowned.
Whether or not the stories are true, the legend continues to be celebrated and has become a parable of sacrifice for the sake of the greter good; re-enacted each year at the Bau Nyale festival as a reminder to the community.
Performed on the main stage during the Core Event, the Putri Mandalika drama is one of the most unique and enchanting cultural performances to be found in Lombok.
The spell-binding and well-acted spectacle features beautiful and authentic Sasak costumes, traditional music, drumming, peresean (stick fighting) and gamelan. It is a fascinating insight into the life and history of our island during thr times when Lombok was ruled by kingdoms and sasak royalty.
At the end of the drama, thousands of people make their way down to the beach front to see if the Nyale have started to appear. Excited crowds splash into the water carrying small nets, buckets and torches, hoping to be the first, to catch a Nyale worm.
No one really knows for sure when the Nyale appear, so anticipation is high prior to the first sighting. The first catches start around 2am and by sunrise the beachfront is an awesome sight, swarming with thousand of wet, happy people scooping up the worms with nets, buckets, shirts, and anything else they can use to catch them.
The highlight of the ceremony occurs when the Dukun (local priest) wades into the sea to observe the spawning Nyale and predict the future rice harvest, based on the number of sea worms.
A good catch is a sign that this year’s rice harvest will also be good. Nyale are traditionally associated with fertility and the sea worms are often ground up and placed in irrigation channels and fields to help ensure a good harvest.
Considered a rare delicacy, the people collect the worms and eat them as a special annual feast. Nyale are sometimes eaten raw when they are caught, but more often are steamed, fried, or made into Pepes Nyale – a popular local specialty whith the Nyale mixed with coconut and spices, then wrapped in a banana leaf and roasted over the fire.
The sea worms are rich in protein and are also believed to heve aphrodisiac properties, so the feasting takes place with much amusement and gusto!
The Nyale spawn along many of the beaches of the south coast, but the site for the main Bau Nyale event is at beautiful Seger Beach near Kuta (recommended places to stay are at the Novotel Resort in Kuta, or for budget travelers, Mimpi Manis Homestay in Kuta).