Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Illness Ritual

So through Couch Surfing Barbara and I have made a couple of new friends. Jim is here to do research for his Ph.D. in ethno-musicology and Lindsay, his partner, is here writing for a local travel magazine (the same one that featured Roy's --guy from my photo class -- picture from Negombo last month) and her regular job, which is photo editing. She is extremely lucky because she has this job that allows her to work from anywhere.Anyway, we had an amazing South Indian meal with them on Friday and they invited us to attend a ritual the next day. Because Jim is studying traditional drumming here, he is completely connected to the traditional music scene (great contact for me, eh!). These rituals are not done very often anymore, but coincidentally one he had never seen before was being held on Saturday. So without hesitation Barbara and I accepted the invitation.

It was really a great day. We traveled with Lindsay by bus to Wadawa (o.k., we didn't go the entire way by bus because the bus guy lied to us about their destination, so we had to take a tuk the last bit of the trip) and hung out at Blue Waters for the late afternoon before the ritual began. Blue Waters is a Geoffrey Bawa hotel -- he is perhaps the most famous architect in Sri Lanka and is known for very sleek designs and incorporating water. The hotel is really impressive and
the pool! Well, the pool is the most amazing pool I've ever seen. Jim showed up in a tuk and we headed to the ritual. After some confusion and wrong turns we picked up Jim's Guru (the guy teaching him how to play a particular drum) and headed over to the ritual site. The Guru began making his headdress and we got to watch. Basically, like all events where foreigners do not usually tread, we were treated as honored guests. We were swept away for dinner, we were provided seats (most people sat on the ground and it is an all night ritual), taken for tea in the middle, brought tea at the end. It was rather nice.
This particular ritual is to cast away demons who are causing someone to be sick. Though the ritual was done as if completely real, there was no actual sick person. One of the young boys in the dance troupe had never done a public ritual, so his parents paid for this one to give him some exposure. Anyway, they appointed someone to be the sick person, so we saw everything.

Of course, my ability to sleep anywhere is a handicap when it comes to staying up all night to watch a ritual. I kept falling asleep. At one point I think I was completely gone, but then they started throwing fire and that woke me up. Note to mom: I do actually wake up when my hair gets singed.
There are two groups of dancers and about eight drummers at the beginning. By the end you have one dancer and one drummer. The two groups take turns dancing with occasional dialog between a drummer and a dancer. This dialog is apparently very funny because people laughed the entire time (I couldn't understand it). Then the dancers start coming out with masks to represent various demons. About the middle of the ritual the sick person is brought out and the demon eats him. Well, he doesn't really, but they make it look pretty real (with red gooey stuff falling out of the demon's mouth and everything!). Also at some point, but since I kept falling asleep I can't say when, they brought a rooster out. Actually they brought him out several times. We are pretty sure if the ritual was not on temple grounds that rooster would have been sacrificed. As it was, he was thoroughly abused. They threw him around and kicked him. By the end of the ritual (after the sun rose) he looked pretty stunned. Poor guy.Overall it was pretty incredible to see. I wish I understood more of it. I'm going to ask Jim for his notes -- Barbara said we should get him to send us his dissertation when he is done also. Not a bad idea.

Apologies for the bad photos. I was too lazy to drag my big camera, tripod and swimming clothes. Next time I will not be lazy because I am thoroughly disappointed in the results.

1 comment:

Jen K said...

I dont know...those photos looked fine to me, especialy since the camerawoman kept falling asleep. :) BTW...I'm seeing Sarah and Irv tonight so I'll be giving her your presents.