Pecalang – Traditional Balinese Security Personnel

When it comes to big events in Bali, the Island of Gods has its own traditions of safeguarding events, with local authorities involving what are locally known as pecalang – traditional Balinese security personnel.

Pecalang Traditional Guards

Every village in Bali has pecalang. The traditional guards maintain village security and manage traffic flows during religious and customary ceremonies. They work voluntarily and are not paid wages. Pecalang were created to maintain the security of the village. In practice, they work hand in hand with hansip (security officers of the administrative village). In order to call members of the village for an emergency, about a three to four meter high tower stands in the village in which three kulkuls (split wooden drums) are housed. Kulkuls are beaten in certain ways according to the message that needs to be communicated; all villagers know the codes for fire, theft, riot and other emergency situations.

The Costume of Pecalang

Other villages also respond to a village’s ask for help by beating their kulkuls in the appropriate fashion. The drums therefore function as both infra and inter-village communication. In true Balinese fashion the costumes worn by the pecalang demonstrate a harmony of symbolism in terms of design and accessories. Usually the costumes consist of chessboard-like sarong, white shirt, black waistcoat and headband completed with keris (dagger) affixed on the back. The checked motif represents the opposition of good and evil represented by white and black, the combination of which balances out into equilibrium and harmony. These sarongs can be seen in numerous ceremonies and on statues throughout Bali. The positioning of the keris dagger at the back also represents the pecalang’s approach to peace-keeping – persuasive and passive rather than aggressive.

Pecalang secure ther major events like the Bali Arts Festival, Nyepi (Day of Silence) and the International Kite Festival. When no major events are taking place, however, the pecalang settle back into more peaceful but equally useful roles such as controlling traffic. All security roles are carried out in conjunction with the police department, demonstrating their vertical and horizontal cooperation to keep Bali safe. The traditional black and white sarongs can be seen in numerous ceremonies and on statues throughout Bali. The positioning of the keris at the back also represents the pecalang’s approach to peace-keeping – persuasive and passive rather than aggressive. So to speak, Pecalang have a significant role in maintaining peace and security, in this Island of Gods.

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