The Indigenous Celebration staged at the Arma Museum in Ubud, Bali between 11-13 May highlighted the connection among the indigenous people of Indonesia, the Pacific and India. There were 34 tribes represented, including  Gayo Aceh, Antoni from West Timor, Dayak Punan, an Australian Aboriginal group, Dayak Kenyah, Marind from Papua and a New Zealand Maori group.

Dayak Maanyan community performed at Indigenous Celebration. Photo by David Metcalf/NOW!JAKARTA

In all, 200 Indigenous people gathered in Bali for this inaugural event – from rivers, jungles, small villages and larger urban settlements. The celebration provided a unique opportunity for participants to reinforce their indigenous identity. They shared their ideas, knowledge and wisdom, and staged performances that resonated with ancient rhythms, songlines and sacred dances.

The opening ceremony was led by the elders of the Dayak Maanyan community. It included a prayer ritual which sought permission from their ancestors for the celebration and sought their help in guarding Arma’s sacred ground during the event. It involved ancient chants accompanied by the sprinkling of rice and holy water. The three-day Indigenous Celebration continued this tradition of honouring the visible and invisible world. Other themes pervading the festival also included artistic excellence, collaboration, unity strong inter-cultural relationships, friendship and respect for nature.

Along with spectacular evening dance performances on a stage decorated with a beautiful tribal theme with stunning light arrangements and on-cue choreographed mapping,  there was intimate storytelling by tribal elders and solo poetry recitals. On the closing night, a live demonstration of hand-tapping, a traditional tattooing technique by the masters of two different tribes – the Mentawai and the Dayak Iban, enthralled the audience. There were also 29 daytime workshops, which for example included weaving demonstrations by West Timorese, tattooing by the Mentawai and Dayak, and Iban demonstrations and sound healing by the New Zealand Maori. All these activities attracted an audience of 2,500 over the three days.

Indigenous people from different tribes across the country showcase the performance though music and dance, inherited in many years. 

The event was initiated by David Metcalf and Shinta Emmanuela. David, the owner of Taksu Photo Gallery in Ubud, is a photographer and author focusing on indigenous documentation in Indonesia, and Shinta is the founder of Yayasan Ranu Welum, Central Kalimantan. Support was provided by the New Zealand Embassy and partners including Arma Museum, Green School, event organisers Antida Music Production, Now! Jakarta and Now! Bali.

Everyone contributed in different and important ways to bringing the elements of performance art, education and culture together for the celebration. The 34 Indigenous groups were handpicked by David and Shinta in consultation with AMAN (Indigenous People’s Alliance of the Archipelago).

“This celebration event was a showcase for our Indigenous identity, strength, and diversity,”Shinta said. “The collaboration between Indonesia and other indigenous peoples created a platform for dialogue and exchange and allowed for ideas to flow, similarities to be found and bonds to be formed. By adding storytelling and poetry reading to dramatic evening dance performances, we further encouraged genuine sharing of the elders’ wisdom. It was essential to Shinta and I as co-founders to create awareness of traditional wisdom, show it in a new light,” David noted.

There were 34 tribes represented, including  Gayo Aceh, Antoni from West Timor, Dayak Punan, an Australian Aboriginal group, Dayak Kenyah, Marind from Papua and a New Zealand Maori group.

A two-day educational programme at the Green School followed on 15 and 16 Mayand involved Adat leaders and elders from the tribes meeting the young students in the classrooms. It finished with a panel discussion between seven tribal groups including Odisha, India and the Atoni tribe of West Timor.

The Indigenous Celebration is to be an annual event and have pledged to plant one tree in Kalimantan for each ticket sold in 2018.

Next year the committee  hopes more embassies and corporate sponsors who have a genuine commitment to supporting indigenous cultures will come on board. The committee is seeking partners to work in a spirit of cross-cultural collaboration. It is the vision of the committee to expand the Celebration’s role of recalling and reinforcing solidarity with nature, tribal traditions, and cultural preservation and honour of the diversity of the archipelago that reinforces the identity of Indonesia and the world. Contact David Metcalf for sponsorship support for 2019.

Videos of the event,  featuring 15 hours of music, dance and performance, is available online through the Indigenous Celebration website:
Contact: David Metcalf –
T:+62 811 1331 255
Emmanuela Shinta Ranu Welum –
T: +62 857 5170 0880

Hundred per cent of the proceeds of the Indigenous Celebration go to support Indigenous Community Development Programmes in Indonesia – Yayasan Ranu Welum

Stephanie Brookes

Stephanie Brookes

Stephanie is an author and travel writer who lives in Bali and covers the cultural Hidden Heritage section monthly. Traveling to far reaches of Indonesia, Stephanie finds stories of myths and legends and covers cultural festivals. From Aceh to Timor her stories feature remote places across the archipelago. See more of her stories on