Lombok, a small island in Eastern Indonesia is very rich in traditions. One of the most important traditions is the Bau Nyale. It is an annual festival when thousand of Sasaks, the largest tribe living on the island, hunt colorful sea worms in the sea at dawn.
Located to the East of Bali Island, Lombok Island is part of West Nusa Tenggara Province, Indonesia. Lombok’s native inhabitant is the Sasak tribe. The tribe forms 85% of Lombok’s population. The Sasak is closely related to the Balinese and until today they share similar language. Historically both tribes were Hindu. However, inthe late 16th century, the Makassarese, a tribe from Celebes Island came to Lombok and converted the Sasak to Islam. Acculturation of cultures between the Sasaks, the Makassarese and the Balinese creates a unique blend that forms the character of the Island.
Bau Nyale Festival
Bau Nyale in Sasak’s language means “catching the worm”. This festival is the most popular, among various festivals held in the island.
Nyale is rare variety of tropical Palolo sea worm (Eunice viridis). This worm is unique because of its color. Unlike ordinary worm, nyale’s color is varied from pale cream to read, orange and green. Once a year, in the right seasonal, marine and lunar condition (usually in the full moon of February or March), the nyale will come to certain beaches in Lombok for a few days to spawn. The coming of nyale is marked by the appearance of Pleiades stars near Orion constellation in the sky. During this time, the colossal worm-catching festival is held in the colorful sea.
The only two beaches visited by nyale are Seger and Kuta Beach of Lombok. The festive moods can be felt several days before the festival, when the Sasaks start building camps on the beach 3 days before the nyale come.
Exactly on the night when the moon is full, thousands of Sasaks gather on the seashore. The hunting is carried out at dawn, when the sea abates. Whilst waiting for the dawn, the Sasaks recite traditional verses known as “pantun”. Each verse has two couplets. The first couplet suggests the next. Young people compete to form verses. A boy will sing his verses to a girl. The girl must then answer by singing verses of her own. This competition allows young people to flirt and tease with each other which in former days often lead to courtship. The Sasaks also play traditional music and perform traditional dance.
At around 2.30 AM, crowds are allowed to go into the water. No one knows exactly when the nyale will appear, so everyone takes position and hopes in excitement to be the first catcher of the worms. Some people hold their torches high, trying to scan the ocean. Once the worms appear, thousands of people, scoop them with their nets, buckets, and even shirts and bare hands. They use anything to catch as many worms as possible. They believe that the more they catch the better will their rice harvest be. A traditional priest will enter the water too to predict the future harvest on the island based on the number of the catch. If thecatch is good the harvest will be good too. By this time, the sight of the beachfront is so colorfully beautiful.
After the hunting, Sasak teenagers, boys and girls sail out to sea in a procession of colorful boats with lots of noise and laughter.
Some worms are brought to the land to be placed in irrigation channels and on paddy field or to be used as fertilizer to ensure good harvest. The rest of the catch is then cooked and served as special annual feast. The worms contain high protein and are believed to have aphrodisiac properties. Some people eat raw worm as soon as it is caught, but most of the worms are fried, steamed or made into soup and crackers. The worms can also be wrapped in a banana leaf together with coconut and spices and then roasted over the fire.
The Legend of Princess Mandalika
Bau Nyale tradition is deeply rooted in local legend. The Sasaks believe that nyale is the incarnation of beautiful Princess Mandalika of Kuripan, one of many ancient kingdoms in Lombok. The legend says that hundreds of years ago, there lived a beautiful Princess Mandalika whose beauty amazed all princes of the land. Because all wanted to marry her, a competition was held to decide a proper suitor for her. Threats of war arose between rival kingdoms as tension increased during the competition. In order to bring peace to the land, Princess Mandalika decided to sacrifice her life. She threw herself into the sea, so that no prince could have her. Before killing herself, the princess said that in a special way, she would return each year to bring good fortune to her beloved people. Once her body touched the water, masses of sea worms appeared. It is believed that the Princess had transformed into these colorful worms. Since then, every year, in the 10th month of Sasak’s Lunar Calendar the worms come to the beach just as promised by the Princess, that each year in a ‘special way’ she will return to the beach.
The nyale for the Sasaks is the manisfesation of their dear princess’ love. It is a symbol of love and good fortune.
How to Get There
You can take a flight directly from Jakarta or Denpasar to Lombok. International flights are available from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and from Singapore. Alternatively you can cross Lombok Strait from Bali Island by using ferry service from Padang Bai Harbor or faster catamaran from Benoa Harbor. Major luxuries hotels, resorts and budgeted hotels are available in the Island. You can get to Seger or Kuta Beach of Lombok, where the festival is held, by using a pedicab called “bemo”, or taxi. You can also rent a car or a motorbike.