Dancing with bright red clothes, the eyes bulging and wide open, a ferrocious face, accompanied by tambours while carrying a sword and sharp spear, make the kabasaran dance much different from other dances in Indonesia which usually are performed with a smile and loose and graceful movements.
This dance is a traditional Minahasa soldiers dance, which is derived from the word Wasal which means a rooster of which the comb is cut in order to make it more agressive in a cockfight.
This dance is accompanied by the banging of tambours and/or small gongs. Percussion instruments like the Gong, Tambour or Kolintang are called “Pa ' Wasalen” and are called Kawasalan by the the dancers, meaning dancing while copying the movements of two roosters fighting.
This word Kawasalan then developed and became Kabasaran which is the concatenation of two words “Kawasal ni Sarian” “Kawasal” means accompanying and following the dance movement, whereas “Sarian” is the warlord who leads the traditional Minahasa military dance. Development of the Manado malay language then changed the letter “W” to become “B” so that the word became Kabasaran, which in reality does not have any connection with the Indonesian word “besar” (big), but in the end it became a dance for welcoming dignitaries.
In the old days the Kabasaran dancers were only dancers for traditional ceremonies. However, in daily life they are farmers. If the Minahasa is in a state of war, the kabasaran dancers become Waranei (soldiers of war). The basic form of this dance consists of nine sword (santi) steps or nine spear (wengkouw) steps with 4/4 horse steps consisting of two steps to the left and two steps to the right.
Every Kabasaran dancer owns a weapon inherited from his old ancestors, because kabasaran dancers are hereditary dancers. This dance generally consists of three parts (in fact there are more than three, only, they are very rarely performed). The parts are:
Cakalele, derived from the word “saka”, which means competing, and “lele” which means chasing while leaping. This part used to be danced when the warriors went to war or when coming back from the war. This part also shows the ferocity of war to important guests to make those visiting guests feel safe, and even the devil would be afraid to disturb the guests of the Kabasaran dancers.
The second part is called Kumoyak, it comes from the word “koyak” which means swinging the sword or spear up and down, forward and backwards to pacify himself from the feeling of anger while waging war. The word “koyak” itself can mean persuading the spirit of the enemy or opponent that has been killed in warware.
Lalaya’an. In this part the dancers dance free and delighted releasing themselves from angry feelings like dancing “Lionda” with their hands in their sides and other dances of delight. This whole dance is based on aba-aba or commands .of the dance leader who is called “Tumu-tuzuk” (Tombulu) or “Sarian” (Tonsea). The command is given in the sub-ethnic language of Tombulu, Tonsea, Tondano, Totemboan, Ratahan, Tombatu and Bantik. In this dance all the dancers must have a fierce expression without a smile, except in the part of relaxation, where the dancers are allowed to smile cheerfully.
The clothes used in this dance were made from original Minahasa woven cloth and “Patola” cloth, it is a red woven cloth from Tombulu which cannot be found in another area in the Minahasa, as described in the book “Alfoersche Legenden”, written by PN Wilken in 1830, when the Minahasa kabasaran already wore clothes based on trousers and a red shirt, and wrapped around with woven cloth. In this case each sub-ethnic Minahasa group had a special way of wrapping the woven cloth around the body. Especially the Kabasaran from Remboken and Pareipei, they liked war clothes better than the traditional ceremonial clothes, they liked wearing tree moss as war camouflage.
It is regrettable that from the year 1950's the original woven cloth started to disappear so the Minahasa kabasaran in the end used woven cloth from Kalimantan and cloth from Timor because their form, color and motif resembled the Minahasa woven cloth like: Kokerah, Tinonton, Pasolongan, Bentenen. The original Kabasaran hat is made of a cloth headband which is decorated with feathers from roosters, feathers of the Taong bird and Paradise bird. There are also decorations made of stems of the kano-kano or tiwoho flowers. Other decorative ornaments used were “lei-lei” or necklaces, “wongkur” calve wrappings, “rerenge’en” or little clock bells (bells made of brass).
In Dutch colonial times there were regional regulations for Kabasaran, issued in Staatsblad Nummer 104 B, jaar 1859, that ordained:
The death ceremony of country leaders (Hukum Basar, Hukum Kadua, Hukum Tua) and public figures, receive a Kabasaran guard. The same thing applies for weddings of country leaders' family members.
Traditional festivities, traditional ceremonies for welcoming dignitaries of the senior Dutch official, the Resident, are controlled by the Kabasaran.
The Kabasaran are assigned as “Opas” (village police).
A Kabasaran on duty occupies the guardpost to ensure the safety of the territory 24 days a year .
Eventually the Dutch were forced to abolish the Kabasaran that already had been appointed as village police, as per above Staatsblad, in the year 1901, because at that time 28 prisoners had escaped from the Manado prison. To catch retrieve them, the Dutch ordered the village police, in this case the Kabasaran, to catch those prisoners. However, these prisoners met an unfortunate fate because they were not arrested alive but all of them were killed, chopped up by the Kabasaran. The Kabasaran at the time were part of the village organization led by the Hukum Tua. Each country or village had ten Kabasaran, one of them was a team leader called “Pa’impulu’an ne Kabasaran”. With the status of village official they received an allowance in the form of rice, white sugar and cloth.
The Kabasaran at that time were indeed scary, because even though they only received an allowance of rice, white suger and cloth, they were capable of slaughtering 28 people, all of the killed and with horrifying wounds.