Magical Mentawai (3): Turuk Lagai, The Dance of The Forest

It was already dark in Sikerei Amanggaresik’s Uma at Rorogot Village. The family members were already gathered. He invited his brother, Sikerei Amabona, from nearby village Madani Marugot to help him doing the Turuk Lagai or Mentawai ritual dance: The forest dance. It was supposed to be three people, but one was absent because he was currently taking care of the sikerei’s father who was very sick.

The Uma was dimly illuminated by a gas lamp hanging in the middle of the main hall where the dance would be performed. Both sikereis were preparing their headbands, leaves, beads, bells wrapped around legs, and other equipment, while the other family members were preparing their musical instruments: tuddukat (drum), and other percussion.

Tuddukat was played before the dance, and then, one by one, both sikereis entered the middle hall of Uma performing the dance. They started the dance slowly, later the moves were progressing into a fast-paced dance. They imitated animal moves: Flapped their arms like birds, later stomped their feet on the wooden floor to imitate a running rabbit. The sound of the bells wrapped around their legs added accent to the dance. The dancing was accompanied by several songs according to the dance’s theme, and between the dances, they rested a few minutes before continuing another dance. The Sikereis’ singing was so haunting that I got many goosebumps.

When the dances were over, Sikerei Amanggaresik sat down, resting. And then after awhile, he began to sing a song. The form of singing in Mentawai culture is called urai. There are many forms of urai: Urai Simaggere (the song of soul), Urai Ukkui (Ancestor’s song), and non-ritual songs such as Urai Goatbaga (sorrowful song), and Urai Paoba (Love song). This time Sikerei Amanggaresik was singing an Urai Simaggere. His voice soared across the Uma, sending chills to my spine. I was surprised and stunned by the fact that even a simple voice and a simple song could be so mystical, touching every living soul in the uma that night.


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