The Indigenous Celebration started with an opening ceremony led by the elders of the Dayak Maanyan community of Central Kalimantan. A prayer ritual was led asking for protection and permission from their ancestors to guard the sacred ground of the Arma, Ubud, Bali, which involved a sprinkling of rice and holy water. In the tradition of respect for nature and honouring the visible and invisible world, the 3-day Indigenous celebration was indeed blessed with beauty, artistic performance, friendship, collaboration, unity and strong intercultural relationships.

The Indigenous Celebration staged at the Arma Museum in Ubud, Bali on May 11-13 brought together a sense of connection between the Indigenous people of Indonesia and seven invited countries from the Pacific and the tribal lands of Odisha and Nagaland, India. This tribal gathering was an inaugural event and 200 Indigenous people came from the rivers, jungles and small villages to meet together in Bali for the first time to share their knowledge, wisdom, and deliver artists performances that resonated with ancient rhythms, songlines and sacred dances.

Cheryl from Australia commented, “This was an incredible event. To bring together indigenous peoples from all these countries and put on performances involving authentic tradition and so many beautiful moments; this will forever stay in my mind and heart. It was a huge, logistical feat. Never before have I witnessed so much beauty, these magnificent cultures all meeting and performing in one venue. Words cannot describe the whole event adequately. It was truly breathtaking on every level. Kudos to David Metcalf and Stephanie Brookes whose vision and dream to bring this to beautiful Ubud and the superb Arma Museum, was a once in a lifetime experience. As the world grows smaller and the western culture creeps into the east, this hopefully will remind everyone to respect and honour such ancient dance and music of these cultures and let us hope that it will forever remain alive. Thank you for opening my heart and soul to such beauty and reverence.”

The Indigenous identity of these nations including 34 tribes from Indonesia aimed to reinforce the purity of Indigenous identity. The celebration achieved this. Along with spectacular evening dance performances against a beautiful stage set infused with mapping (visual imagery) and tribal themed lighting, intimate storytelling was also delivered by tribal elders and solo poetry reading. Daytime workshops, which included weaving demonstrations by West Timor, tattooing by the Mentawai and Dayak Iban and sound healing by the New Zealand Maori, were just some of the 29 workshops offered. These attractions brought in a crowd of 2,500 people to the event.

The celebration of Indigenous peoples was initiated by David Metcalf, the owner of Taksu Photo Gallery in Ubud, Bali, a photographer and author who focuses on indigenous documentation in Indonesia and Emmanuela Shinta, the founder of Yayasan Ranu Welum, Central Kalimantan. With the support of the New Zealand Embassy and partners including Arma Museum, Green School, event organisers Antida Music Production, and other partners this event brought elements of performance art, education and culture together.

Janice commented, “This weekend I was treated to a unique experience at The Indigenous Celebration. The 3-day indigenous cultural awareness festival brought together people from all over Indonesia and the world to share their stories, dance, music and culture. I learned so much! From finding out about schools that embrace a traditional education learning and sharing environment started in Borneo to preserve an ancient way of life, to hearing how honey is harvested and bees are sung to, to seeing how world class photographers and artists have worked with and honored native cultures to dancing with a Dayak chief, this was a weekend I will never forget! Kudos to the organizers and the people who traveled to Bali to share their wisdom and special gifts, this is what the world needs now to unite the different peoples of the Earth and celebrate our diversity and heritage.”

The Indigenous Celebration has pledged to plant one tree in Kalimantan from each ticket sold, and Emmanuela said, “This celebration event was a showcase for our Indigenous identity, strength, and diversity. Together with David Metcalf, we handpicked the 34 Indigenous groups which included Gayo Aceh, Antoni from West Timor, Dayak Punan, an Australian Aboriginal group, Dayak Kenyah, Marind from Papua and a New Zealand Maori group.”

David said, “The importance of international collaboration between Indonesia and other indigenous peoples creates a platform for dialogue and exchange and allows for ideas to flow, similarities to be found and bonds to be formed. By adding storytelling and poetry reading to dramatic evening dance performances, we allowed for a very genuine knowledge sharing of the wisdom of the elders. It was essential to Shinta, and I as co-founders to bring awareness of traditional wisdom in a new light.”

Most of the tribes came straight from the jungles, rivers and small villages. The evening programme included not only dancing and singing (some groups had 30 performers on stage), but also storytelling from the elders themselves, plus poetry and even a tattooing demonstration live on stage with the Mentawai masters and the Dayak Iban.

A 2-day educational programme at the Green School followed on May 15 and 16 which included the elders from the tribes meeting the young students in the classrooms and finished with a panel discussion between seven tribal groups including Odisha, India and the Atoni tribe of West Timor.

Meghan Pappenheim, the Founder of Bali Spirit Festival summed it up perfectly, “This was truly a world-class, beautifully curated event with top performers who inspire us all to be a version of our better selves.”

The Indigenous Celebration is planned to be an annual event. Next year it is hoped more Embassies, leaders and corporate sponsors  will come on board as partners in a spirit of cross-cultural collaboration to recall the solidarity of nature, tribal traditions, preservation and honour of the diversity of the archipelago that reinforces the identity of Indonesia and the world.

The 3-day performance, which features 15 hours of music, dance and performance is available to be viewed online through the Indigenous Celebration website

100% of proceeds of the Indigenous Celebration go to support Indigenous Community Development Programs in Indonesia – Yayasan Ranu Welum 

Story by Stephanie Brookes
Author and Travel Writer

Photos by David Metcalf
Author and Photographer

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