Mesmerizing Crazy Bamboo: The Mystical Dance from Maluku

Crazy Bamboo (Bambu Gila) is a mystical ritual performed in Indonesia’s Maluku Islands, where a group of strong men struggle to control a piece of bamboo from moving around like crazy as if it were possessed by an unseen power. The origins of Bambu Gila, or Crazy Bamboo, are unknown, but it is believed the ancient ritual was once used to induce a fearless fighting mentality before going to war.

 Bambu Gila 1

Mantras, burning incense, and seven husky men wrestling with a piece of bamboo are all things you will experience when you see the Crazy Bamboo Dance in Maluku (the Moluccas). After you see this performance you’ll have a story of adventure and the supernatural that you’ll be recounting to people back home for years to come. During this mystical dance, a group of seven men hold a bamboo stick while a ginger chewing shaman casts magic over the bamboo. The bamboo is possessed by an unseen power, which makes it ‘crazy’. Legend has it that the bamboo becomes heavier and difficult to keep a hold of.

Usually, it is people who get possessed by spirits, but for this dance, the spirit is directed to a 2.5-meter piece of bamboo. As the shaman’s mantra is repeated, music plays as the seven men who hold the bamboo start to feel burdened by the crazy bamboo, or “bamboo gila”. The bamboo seems to move by itself as the shaman spits the crumbled ginger out of his mouth onto the bamboo. As the ginger flutters the men have to increase their efforts to hold on to the weighty bamboo. As the music plays faster, the bamboo gets heavier and “dances” on its own power.

Bambu Gila 2

Sometimes the chewed ginger is replaced with burning incense which is said to have even more of an effect on the bamboo. The fragrance radiates along with clouds of smoke from the flaming sticks. As the mantra intensifies and the bamboo continues its mindless moving, the shaman will scream, “GILA!”  or “CRAZY!” to the bamboo. The weight of the bamboo increases and many people claim that as the dance progresses, the bamboo gets so heavy it is almost too heavy to hold.

The bamboo itself is sourced locally. However, the process of picking and cutting the bamboo is special. The shaman firstly asks permission from the spirit who dwells at the bamboo woodland. It is then cut precisely as per traditional customs. The bamboo is cleaned and washed with coconut oil, adorned with cloth at each end. Long ago, the bamboo was cut out from Mount Gamalama, the volcanic mountain in Ternate, Northern Maluku. Today, the art of the crazy bamboo is learned and can be transferred and practiced out of the islands as far away as Java.

Bambu Gila

It is believed that the tradition of the crazy bamboo dance started long before Islam and Christianity came to the islands. Today the mystical dance is only practiced in a small number of villages. Seeing the dance is a magical experience. Under the moonlight, the humming mantra and drumming tifa creates an exotic spectacle you won’t see anywhere else in the world. Whether you test your strength and try dancing with the bamboo yourself, or are a spectator watching people attempt to wrestle with the bamboo, this is one dance you won’t forget.

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