Dewi Dian Reich
Dewi Dian Reich


Founder of Sawidji Artist Collective and Gallery.
Director/Curator of Sawidji & Co

Ratu Gede Mas Mecaling, Krisna and Komokwa the Undersea God. The Living Masks of Bali: Chapter 06

There is a little bit of breathing room on Sundays. Sundays tend to be a little more relaxed. Thats when I get to write a little more, catch up on editing photos and tidying up some of the work during the week. Also a day where we can relax and visit with friends.

I wanted to visit Ketut Sukerta, Sawidji artist and traditional Mask Maker. As he has been busy with his community responsibilities as well as receiving an order recently. I had not seen him in a couple of weeks. We were both trying to co ordinate our schedules. One of the masks he was commissioned to do is of Ratu Gede Mas Mecaling and the Mask of Krisna. This is exciting and we wanted to get some photographs to do a post on the background of the Masks.

The Mask of Ratu Gede Mas Mecaling, by Ketut Sukerta. Still unpolished.
Ratu Gede Mas Mecaling

Background on Ratu Gede Mas Mecaling.

A famed Ancestor of Ratu Gede Mecaling is Dukuh Jumpungan, who has lived in Nusa Penida for a long time.Whose descendant is I Renggan. From the marriage of I Renggan and Ni Merahim, Gede Mecaling was born. He from childhood, loved to do yoga, meditate and purify himself. Finally, his yoga was rewarded. From Lord Siwa. Lord Siwa gifted Gede Mecaling great power. Upon receiving this power, he underwent drastic changes. HIs body became large, his face frightening, his teeth long and his voice a loud roar.

Because of his amazing supernatural powers the Gods were troubled. There was anxiety from Swargaloka and to Marcapada. Finally, Lord Siwa, asked his Gede Mecaling’s Ancestors to control him. The Ancestors could not control Gede Mecaling. And Lord Siwa was forced to come down to earth, specifically in Nusa, to cut his fangs. Since then, Gede Mecaling has started to do benevolent works for the community. Everyone in Nusa as well as in the Heavens were content.

Then Gede Mecaling again continued his yoga samedhi. He became more diligent in doing the samedhi yoga. At that time he was bestowed a gift by Betara Rudra. God of Taksu. Pengger Taksu Kawisesan, or the Science of Magic. He was given a gift by Betara Rudra, able to repel grubug, gering and other diseases that are spread by Nature itself. Over time he acquired a lot of followers. There are many who learn magic. And as shamans, they came to Ratu Gede Mas Mecaling for help to treat and help people who are affected by gering (sickness). It’s been a long time since, and Ratu Gede Mecaling has a palace in Nusa Penida. And his fame reached the Kingdom of Klungkung. The King was intrigued and the King of Klungkung even once called Ratu Gede Mecaling to come to the kingdom of Klungkung. However, he did not wish to leave his home but wished to stay in Nusa Penida. Until now.

It is fair to say that the history of Bali is richly interwoven into our Masks. Above and below regarding Ratu Gede Mas Mecaling and the Mask of Krisna are general outlines of the legend and history associated. The purpose is to provide an introductory background to the history of Ratu Gede Mas Mecaling and the Mask of Krisna.

The Mask of Krishna
The Mask of Krisna, by Ketut Sukerta. Unpolished.

Krisna, the Face of Truth

I then continued to listen to Ketut’s explanation of the Krisna Mask.

Krisna tells the story of Mahabaratta. He is wise, and can foresee every outcome from the actions of man.Krisna is known as the Avatar of Lord Visnu . Because of the war that was occurring, Lord Visnu manifested in Krisna to give help and guidance to Righteousness. Where between truth and evil is not balanced on earth. So Krishna must protect the truth.

This Krisna mask is a symbol, the face in the form of truth. Where the Krisna Mask is often performed in the Mahabharata Wayang and other kinds of Wayang Wong. In Bali, it is known as the embodiment of a wise and sincere face from the embodiment of Krishna. The color of Krisna’s mask when it is colored is a bit greenish. Because it symbolises prosperity and peace.

Krisna once said in the Mahabharata, ‘that whoever remembers me, I will remember him. Whoever loves me with compassion, I do the same to him.’

Krisna

There was something interesting that Ketut mentioned. It ties in to Krisna’s words as well as the depth of meaning to his being the ‘face of truth’. He said if someone asked why Krisna’s brows is high and arched in this mask, then you can explain. That Krisna appears in different ways. If one sees him as a fierce face, that is how he will appear. If one sees him as a benevolent face that is how he will appear. Or perhaps to say if one faces him with fear in his heart, Krisna’s face will show something to fear. If one faces him with love in his heart, Krisna’s face will have love also.

Ratu Gede Mas Mecaling

In this mask that appears here today, Ketut has carved the face of Krisna with shades of fierceness. What he means, once he explained further, is that Krisna reflects the inner truth of those who view him. Or of the world that he sees.

From my inspiration, because of the current situation and the concerned condition of the earth, his face is a little bit angry because humans are too proud of themselves.

Ketut Sukerta

‘The artistry of mask making and its inner reflections is profound. It is not uncommon to see the beauty of masks. It can be easily appreciated from an aesthetic appreciation. However it is not always possible to see the bonds and union between the mask maker and his creation. As this is very intimate and private. His reflections, his feelings and meditations that contribute to the artistry of the Mask. The faces that he reveals and the power or truth that it represents.

…and here comes the irony..

The other project Ketut is working on is not a ceremonial mask commission, but a commercial order from an old customer. We are glad for the outside work that our members are able to get. Because economically, since the Pandemic’s effect on tourism, it has been a struggle for most to get any type of work.

I was under the assumption that Ketut is working on an order for a local art shop or something similar. That kind of work is what puts food on the table for most artisans and artists. It is a treacherous cliff edge. The circle of souvenir making and commerciality, you can’t discard it because at times, it is the only way some can make a living. The question is, how do you stop it from becoming a beast that consumes the one who feeds it.

Nevertheless, It turned out to be a very interesting visit. In many ways, it painted the most ironic picture of the present reality that we are traversing. I saw that the masks Ketut was making was tribal, very much like Native pacific north west culture masks. Clearly not Balinese. I was intrigued. I asked the nature of the order he received.

Komokwa

Komokwa Mask, Raven Makes Gallery. The image here is sourced from a Google Search. One visually closest to the masks that Ketut is making for his order. I have included the link directly to the Gallery and Artist of the Komokwa Mask in the image.

It is a repeat customer to fulfil an order of masks to be sent to Canada. We don’t know for certain if it is destined for a souvenir shop or something like that. With a little bit of assistance from Google we determined that one of the masks he was making was Sun Masks and that of Komokwa the Undersea God of the Pacific Northwest people. Also what looked like decorative masks reminiscent of spirit masks of Inuit origin.

Komokwa

Komokwa in the making…

The masks of Komokwa and several other Deities of the Kwakiutl, is here in the home of Ketut Sukerta Mas Ubud Bali.

A Note on Komokwa the Undersea God

A little bit of research revealed that Komokwa or Kumugwe, is the wealthy god of the Undersea as recognised and revered by the Kwakiutl and Nuxalk Nations of the Pacific Northwest. He is also known as ‘Copper Maker’.Some of Komokwa’s powers include seeing into the future, ,healing the sick and injured as well as bestowing powers on those he favours.

Many heroes went on quests to reach his undersea abode; those who made it were rewarded with riches and spirit magic. His world is guarded by the octopus. Komokwa would teach the hero who entered his abode the ways of the sea and give him gifts of blankets, coppers, songs, masks, and regalia. These items of mystical regalia are called Tlugwe (or Tlokwe) in Kwak’wala.

The Many Faces of Irony

Is not this very typical of the commercialisation of traditional arts. Is it not exceptionally ironic that we are trying to minimise the overt commercialisation of our traditional masks and here we have the proof that on a global level, this is an issue happening everywhere.

We are unable to make significant changes without education, without understanding. We cannot do this immediately without a long term solution. That kind of transition and shift is not determined on principles alone. Because it has everything to do with economical survival. If we cannot find a viable source of livelihood, how can our artists turn away orders that put food on their table.

The Spirit Masks and Ceremonial Masks of Indigenous origin is being made here in Bali, by a master mask maker of traditional Balinese masks. He is replicating the masks of other ancient tribes, with rich spiritual meanings from another tradition but does not know the significance of these masks.

Our own musings..

I said to him,.. ‘in meaning they are just as layered and deeply connected to the native culture as our masks are to the Balinese community. The spiritual meaning and symbolism that is carried by these masks are rich and sacred. Do you wonder why this is being made here? When the native people who own this heritage have every ability to make it themselves? Perhaps they would not make it for this commercial purpose? Perhaps it would be seen as taboo or unethical to reproduce these masks. Maybe. Maybe it was just more economical to be made in Bali.

I said, how would we feel if the Barong Landung was reproduced in such a way to be sold alongside keyring and other paraphernalia ? He immediately was shocked at such a notion. There are masks in the Balinese culture that could never be lightly reproduced. In the making of it, it is the making of the reflection of a great power. A lot of care is taken to do it rightly. We wondered together if it was the same perhaps for the masks of the Kwakiutl People.It is a conundrum. How do we reconcile this impasse.

Connected by our Living Masks.

On the one hand we are doing everything we can to re educate and raise the awareness again of the value and integrity of our cultural arts. Until our Sawidji incentive strengthens commercially through appropriate product designs etc, our artists still need to support their families. The orders that come are far and few between. The ones that do come, well,. Shows us just how many faces there are of irony.

However, we are grateful for having the opportunity to learn a little about the Masks of the Kwakiutl. This is enriching and makes us appreciate what we do even more. It is another way we see clearly how utterly connected we are in our existence. To other cultures very far away. Time, language and oceans apart, yet there is a solid bond and intrinsic kinship in this art.

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