Lombok, the New Bali: Cultural Highlights of the Island
This is the second out of three blog posts explaining why and how Lombok is becoming the new Bali. Today we will talk about Lombok’s cultural highlights.
If you didn’t read the first blog of this series, you can learn about Lombok’s natural wonders in that post.
A past census showed that 85% of Lombok’s population are Sasak people. Balinese people represent 10-15% as well, which is a big part of the rest. Other cultures such as Javanese, Sumbawanese or Arab Indonesians can be found in Lombok. We could say that Lombok represents the whole country: rich and diverse.
Sasak culture is a very interesting one. Indigenous Sasak people arose from Java in the first millennium BC. The majority practice Muslim faith and traditions. Yet there are a lot of similarities between Sasak and Balinese culture and language. Here are some of the events and traditions you should experience to have a glimpse at Sasak culture.
Bau Nyale Festival
Bau Nyale Festival is one of the biggest traditions in Lombok, attracting thousands of visitors every year. Bau means ‘to catch’ and Nyale is a seaworm that appears once a year on Mandalika beach, Southern Lombok. Local people spend the night on the beach, hoping to catch seaworms in the earliest hours of the day. But why would they catch seaworms?
Well, it started with a local legend about Mandalika princess. She was known for her beauty, wisdom and kindness and many princes competed to win her heart and marry her. Mandalika’s father asked her to make a choice after one night of reflection. In the morning, all the princes gathered on what is now known as Mandalika beach, to hear her decision. She said that despite the fact that she does love one of the suitors, choosing will only lead to tensions between the kingdoms.
For that reason, she abandoned herself to all of them, diving into the ocean and drowning. Mandalika’s body never reappeared, but Nyale worms were found. A priest declared that the seaworms represented Mandalika’s body or hair. Hence, catching Nyale worms means good fortune. Sasak people eat them or release them in irrigation channels. So the larger the amount of worms caught, the better the following rice harvest will be.
The festival comes with traditional performances, stalls, poetry, and more events. The dates vary but Bau Nyale festival always takes place between February and March.
Presean is an extreme fight game to showcase the masculinity of Sasak men. The two opponents fight each other using rattan sticks and wearing only a sarong and a headband.
The fights were originally showcasing the happiness of soldiers after winning a war. Presean was also used to ask God for rain before planting season. It was believed that the more blood spilt, the better the rain would be. Presean is now part of Sasak’s traditions and cultural performances in Lombok. You can see Presean fights during Bau Nyale Festival.
The Malean Sampi Festival takes place in April. In Sasak language, Malean means “to chase” and Sampi means “cow”. Nobody will chase a cow here since it is more of a cattle race. After the harvest season, the farms have a break period. At that time, they will choose their racing cows, feed them well and decorate them for the festival. The arena consists of a 100 meters long waterlogged track. The winning cows are put on sale as they are considered as a good investment. Processions and fanfare are accompanying the festival and it is a big thing in Lombok.
Gendang Beleq is one of the most popular dances in Lombok. Beleq means “huge” and Gendang means “drum”, there is no surprise that each dancer uses a huge drum. It was originally performed when soldiers were going to or coming back from a battle. Today it is mostly to welcome important visitors or as a wedding tradition.
Nyongkolan is Lombok’s traditional wedding ceremony. On Saturdays and Sundays, you may see the procession between the groom’s and the bride’s families houses. In this procession, you can see Sasak dances, poetry and colourful traditional dresses. It is a very happy and fun procession to watch and it shows a lot about Sasak culture.
Lombok’s main religion is Islam. There are many mosques around the island that you can visit.
One of the biggest celebrations in Islam is Idul Fitri, which ends the holy fasting month of Ramadan. Lombok is an amazing place to experience this tradition. In Mataram, Senggigi or Kuta, you will see homemade firecrackers and fireworks. A procession usually takes place with a competition of miniature mosques. You may want to ask the locals for the exact location.
There is a small yet significant community of Balinese Hindus in Lombok. For this reason, you can find beautiful Hindu temples around Lombok. But you can also experience some Balinese traditions out of Bali.
Nyepi festival is the biggest festival in Bali since it is Hindu’s New Year. On this occasion, many processions and celebrations take place in Lombok. We already wrote about Nyepi festival in Bali. If spending the whole day in your hotel room doesn’t sound appealing, then head to Lombok! The most exciting one is Ngerupuk parade, on the eve of the Day of Silence. Ngerupuk is the parade of the evil spirits through the city streets. The Ogoh Ogoh are often accompanied by dance performances and gamelan fanfare. This is definitely a sight to behold.
Another part of Lombok’s incredible culture is all the handicrafts made here. You can choose some souvenirs to bring a bit of Lombok back home.
Ikats are traditional pieces of fabric dyed in a very specific way. Indeed, all the threads are dyed before the weaving process. It is only while weaving the fabric that the actual patterns appear. It requires a very precise technique of dyeing from the craftsperson. If the technique isn’t mastered, the pattern will appear blurry. This slight blurriness is very characteristic of the ikat and has its charm. Obviously, the sharper the design, the more difficult it is to weave, and the higher the price.
Sasak people have crafted pottery for generations. You can find many pottery centres in Lombok, like Banyumulek village. They come in so many shapes, sizes, colours and functions. In Banyumulek you will learn about their special piece: the Kendi Maling (thief kettle). The characteristic of this kettle is that the hole to pour the water is located underneath. Yet it is designed so when you put the kettle upright again, it doesn’t leak. Its name comes from the water using an unusual way to get in, just like thieves.
Wood carving is a big thing in some villages, like in Labuapi. Here, most of the villagers are artisans with their own shop. From very strong woods, they carve desks, doors, masks and other sculptures. The style is very specific to the Sasak people with some recurring patterns like lizards. Some craftsmen sell their creations in Australia, New Zealand, England or the Netherlands.
Lombok has both types: freshwater and sea cultured pearls. Lombok’s pristine seashore is ideal for oyster farms. If you know little about pearls, here are some tips. Sea cultured pearls are usually better quality, hence higher prices. The majority of Lombok’s sea pearls comes from Sekotong area on the east coast and the north-west. You should be aware that some sellers will try to sell imitation pearls. Make sure to find a trustworthy reseller or do some of the three tests below:
- Look at the pearl closely. Authentic pearls have irregular shapes and natural colours. Imitations have perfect shapes and come in various shades.
- Rub the pearl against a glass. Authentic pearls won’t suffer from it but leave a chalk-like mark on the glass.
- Burn it. The seller will most likely not let you do this before the sale. But if you’re in doubt the seller fooled you, burn it. Authentic pearls won’t get damaged while imitations will melt.
Lombok’s proximity with Bali gave the island a unique cultural identity. There’s no surprise so many people are eager to explore and discover this richness. Yet Lombok is still not as popular as Bali, which gives the island this very laid-back atmosphere. Some people may say, Lombok today is like Bali 20 years ago.
So how Lombok is actually becoming the new Bali? We tell you about Indonesia’s plans to make it happen here.
Do you know how to go to Lombok from Bali? Here is our recommendation for the safest fastboat from Lombok to Bali.
Would you like to discover this incredible culture?
Tell us everything in the comments below!
Enjoy the journey!
Written by Virginie Fauquant