Bau Nyale Festival, Lombok

On Lombok’s Kuta beach, the locals celebrate an age-old legend by harvesting marine worms that are believed to be the magical manifestation of a princess’ locks.  It is a cultural tradition, deeply rooted in local legend and drama, and unique to the island of Lombok.

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Legend has it that a long time ago, when many kingdoms ruled Lombok, there lived a beautiful princess named Mandalika, who was besieged by numerous suitors. To prevent the enamoured noblemen from waging war to win her hand in marriage, the princess scaled the cliff above Seger Beach and jumped to her death.

Her people frantically searched the tidal flats below, but found only colonies of nyale marine worms, which many believe to be the magical manifestation of the princess’ hair. Since then, every 20th day of the 10th month of the Sasak calendar – which falls between the Gregorian calendar months of February and March – the spirit of the princess revisits her people with the emergence of these sea creatures.

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The Bau Nyale festival is celebrated all along the southern coast of Lombok, but the main festivities centre on Seger Beach, where the legendary princess is believed to have perished.

The sea worms are a rare variety of Palolo worm (Eunice viridis) found in tropical waters in certain parts of the world and in Lombok, Sumba and Savu in Indonesia. Once a year, when seasonal, marine and lunar conditions combine, the Nyale come to certain beaches around Lombok to spawn and, for a few days, the seas are filled with wriggling sea worms in a variety of colours, ranging from simple brown or pale cream to red and green.

Bau Nyale, or the Nyale Festival, takes place every year in the tenth month of the Sasak calendar at a time close to the full moon, and was celebrated this year on 14 and 15 February on the south coast beaches of Lombok. The most popular site for celebrating Bau Nyale is at beautiful Seger Beach near Kuta; an area called Putri Nyale (Princess Nyale) by the people of Lombok.

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Considered a rare delicacy, the people collect the worms to eat them for a special annual feast. Nyale are eaten sometimes raw when they are caught, or steamed, fried, or made into Pepes Nyale. In this popular local specialty, the Nyale are mixed with coconut and spices, then wrapped in a banana leaf and roasted over the fire. The sea worms are rich in protein and are also believed to have aphrodisiac properties, so the feasting takes place with much merriment and gusto!

How to get there:

Worlds away from its hedonistic and overcrowded Balinese namesake, Kuta Beach in southern Lombok harbours pristine coves, remote surf breaks, indigenous villages and local legends that come alive every year through a unique ritual harvest.

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