Come of Age in Bali

by Andrew Stein

When I hear about a coming of age ritual, I naturally imagine a 13-year-old memorizing a Torah portion in preparation for his or her Bar or Bat Mitzvah. After all, that is when I made the transition from boyhood to manhood. I still wasn’t ready to drive, join the army, vote, drink or smoke, but in the Jewish tradition, I was ready to lead a Shabbat service. But in all seriousness, more important than becoming a certified “man” or being considered an adult, having my Bar Mitzvah connected me to my family and to my greater Jewish community. I am the eighth of ten first cousins, the seven older cousins had already had their Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, and the two younger were still waiting their turn. We happen to be spaced about one-year apart spanning a decade; therefore, our yearly family reunion during the 1990’s revolved around this coming of age ceremony. And from that experience, I can appreciate a coming of age ritual regardless of what the ritual may specifically consist of.

My Bali expert, Fred Eiseman (writer of Bali: Sekala and Niskala), describes this coming of age ritual as a Tooth Filing. A time when an individual moves away from being “kasar” or coarse, and moves closer to being “alus” or refined. Eiseman puts it best in his book when he writes, “Balinese Hinduism can be very highly symbolic, and the one characteristic that epitomizes uncivilized, uncouth, coarse disposition is protruding canine teeth.” And like a Bar Mitzvah in the Jewish tradition, tooth filing has become an all-out event in the Bali Hindu tradition. Extended family, friends and community members celebrate this event together. The ceremony is called matatah. I will probably not opt to have a matata, but I did want to draw its possible similarities to events more familiar to me.