Caci Whip Fighting Dance may be described as the traditional dance of West Manggarai. It is actually a whip fight among two people, during which the fighters are required to dance to the tunes of some particular customary acoustic instruments. This dance form has been transferred from one generation to another, and has turned into a ritual and tradition that is dedicated to the ancestors of the inhabitants.
The name Caci is derived from two separate words: “ca” which means one and “ci” which means test. Hence the word “Caci” simply means a test among two rivals in order to prove who among them is right or wrong. There are several rules in this dance which must be followed. In this form of dance, attacking the opponent on his head and body are permitted which makes the eyes of the dancers prone to risk.
In simple words, the Caci dance is actually a fight between two dancers who attach each other in turns. The attacker, known as a “Paki” in Manggarai, takes the help of a whip prepared from cow or buffalo leather. On the other hand, the defender, known as the “Ta’ang”, depends upon a shield called “Nggiling” to protect himself.
The tools used in Caci dance are very important as each of them have a significant role to play:
Larik (whip): The Larik is one of the most important tools used in the Caci Whip Fighting Dance. It is mainly used for the purpose of striking and consists of two parts: the robe and stick, just like a normal whip. The stick is used to hold the whip while the robe is the one with which the strike the opponent. The robe is usually prepared from dried buffalo skin which is properly sliced in order to give it the required shape. The attacker’s whip is made using rattan, consisting of a handle made from leather. Symbolically, it refers to the male, the father, the phallic element and the sky.
Chemeti: In some cases, the larik may be replaced with another tool, known as the Chemeti which is also a kind of whip. This tool is usually made from long palm stems which are tied together with the help of long strips of buffalo hide at certain intervals along the long axis.
Towards the taper ends, stalks of smaller diameter are used until the tail part becomes narrow yet flexible and strong. Often, this tool is prepared using twisted buffalo hide. The chemeti is usually five to six feet long.
Kalus: The kalus is also another kind of whip which may replace the Larik in the Caci Whip Fighting Dance. It is usually smaller in size than the other whips – about three feet in length. The combatants are free to choose either the chemeti or the kalus as their offensive weapon to strike the opponent.
One of them is supposed to hold a shield and willingly accept the blow of the other. However, the defender can rotate his whip over his head in a circular motion, in order to prevent the attacker. The attacker is allowed to hit three blows after which he is supposed to give up the stick and accept the shield.
Nggiling: The Nggiling is actually a shield which is used during the Caci traditional dance of Manggarai. It is also called the Prisai Kayu if prepared from wood. Neither the shield, nor the stick has any decoration. The shield is used to protect one from the continuous blows of the attacker.
It is usually prepare from rattan and covered in buffalo skin which is best suited to serve this purpose. Symbolically, the shield refers to the feamale, the earth and the womb. The symbol of the elements of male and female are supposed to get united when the whip touches the shield. It is considered to be an unity that is important for the creation of life.
Masks: The performers of the Caci traditional dance of Manggarai are also required to wear different masks during the course of the fight. These are either prepared from leather or wood and are covered in cloth, with a strip of goat hair hanging at the bottom. The masks also contain two horns which signify the strength of water buffaloes.
Songket: During the Caci dance, the fighters are required to wear the ritualistic Songket, which is actually a woven cloth on top of a pair of everyday pants. A belt with bells attached to it hangs from their waist and also several bell strings are wore on the ankles which emits a peculiar sound whenever the dancers are fighting. Their upper body usually remains uncovered and bare, which leaves it open to the whip strikes.
Originally, this dance was performed only during a festival called Penti which took place after the year of harvest is in order to represent the end of the old agricultural year and the beginning of the new year. These dance performances usually last for one whole day but it may also go on for two or three days even.
The performances are almost always accompanied by gong and drum music. The preparations of this dance form consist of a number of age-old ritual procedures and also includes the sacrifice of an animal. Some other occasions during which this dance may be performed include birth, marriage as well as funeral ceremonies.
Due to significant changes in agricultural as well as social circumstances, as well as the increased interest of both international and domestic tourists, the dance of Caci has become a great cultural attraction in Manggarai. Such performances are rapidly turning into a business with each passing day for the local cultural people.
According to the narrations of the elders of Manggarai, in the past generations, a great number of dancers faced unfortunate situations known as Rowa or Beke.
In such conditions, often the eyeballs of the performers of Caci Whip fighting Dance fell to the ground due to heavy blows. According to the beliefs of the elders, Such conditions only took place due to wrong attitude of fighters who had no regard or respect for his traditions and customs.