Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Barongsai - A Lion Dance to bring Good Luck

It is said that the ancient times, there lived an evil beast named Nian. He used to come in late winter to eat the crops. His arrival brings terror to the whole village, because he did not hesitate to destroy the houses too. This condition lasts for a long time, until one day, the people knew the creature's weakness. Apparently, the Nian was afraid of red color, dance of Barongsai and firecrackers. So, since then, people were flocking to light red lanterns, ring the gong and drum, then start dancing of Barongsai (Lion Dance). Those make Nian scared and ran deep into the woods.

The barongsai

It is said that since then he never again returned to the village. The villagers then live in peace. Since then, people always dance Barongsai when new year comes, so Nian would never return to their villages. All of that was a tradition when the new year arrives.

The above story is just one of the various versions of the story about the origin of barongsai dance at the Chinese New Year. However, whatever version of the story, Barongsai Dance has become an integral part of the lives of the Chinese people, especially during the celebration of Chinese New Year.

Barongsai is believed to have existed since thousands years ago. In fact there is literature that says that Barongsai has been around since the third century BC, which is in the Chin Dynasty. The dance is usually performed on the Cap Go Meh celebration, which falls annually on the 15th calendar China. When that moment arrives, Barongsai will be around the village. People would normally stand in front of their houses to welcome the Barongsai. They will give money wrapped in red envelopes, which we know as "hong pao/ang pao".

Barongsai at Jakarta Fair 

In the 17th century, Barongsai is brought to Indonesia by ethnic Hokkien immigrants from mainland China. At that time, there is acculturation between Chinese culture and the locals. Most evident is the name of the Barongsai originated from two different languages, “Barong “ comes from Balinese/Javanese and “Sai” comes from the Chinese Hokkien dialect. Both words have the same meaning, namely "lion". Acculturation created a unique new language, which shows the cultural richness of Indonesia. In the Chinese language itself, a commonly used word is Shi Wu means "Lion Dance".

Another version of the name Barongsai in Hokkien dialect is from the word "Bo Ling Bo Sai", which means playing dragons and lions . The word “Barongsai” then became more popular because it's adjusting to the tongue of Indonesian, since most Indonesian find it difficult to say the word "Bo Ling Bo Sai", so finally the name “Barongsai” is more commonly used.

barongsai at play

In addition of performing on the Cap Go Meh in the Chinese New Year celebration, Lion Dance dance now is also commonly played during the opening of a new place, in a wedding ceremony and at various other special occasions. Lion is believed to bring success to those who wish to open a business. The use of feng shui of lion makes the business runs smoother. It is believed that:
  • Eliminate negative energy - the loud noise of drums and cymbals will purify or cleanse the area of chi/negative energy and replace it with a new clean positive energy. 
  • Chase away bad spirits - the strength of the dance and the presence of the lion will ward off evil spirits out of the location, and ensure that your business will be successful 
  • Bring Luck - the presence of lion is a symbol of power and bring good luck. 
In the performance of the lion dance, there are 8 basic patterns that must be done. All lion dance begins and ends with sleep. So the lion dance patterns ranging from sleep, open, play, search, fighting, eating, cover and Sleep. This dance is accompanied by drums, gongs and cymbals throughout the performance.

Gong Xi Fa Cai  恭禧發財

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