THE name Kebo Iwa has long been known by Balinese people. When reading or hearing about the story of his life, as though we are proffered with a fiction mixed with history. As a historical figure, Kebo Iwa is described as a mighty and powerful knight. There is a source mentions if he was a governor of the king Gajahwaktra ruling at Bedahulu (now Bedulu) around 1324 -1343 AD. Kebo Iwa is mentioned as one of the military commanders of Bali during the reign of King Sri Asta Sura Ratna Bumi Banten in the early fourteenth century.
As a fictional character, Kebo Iwa who also has another name like Kebo Taruna and Kebo Wandira is described as a remarkable man. The son of Commander Rakryan Buncing is described as a giant man having a big posture. Range of his feet is very wide, so that he can travel quickly. If he wants to drink, he just needs to stab his finger into the ground and a small well will emit water.
Kebo Iwa can also carve a stone with his nail. Whenever there is a big hole, people always call it as the footprint of Kebo Iwa. Others also say that a hollow rock on Soka Beach (Tabanan) is the pot of Kebo Iwa. He is described as a strong giant man that eats so much so that to cook rice he needs a large pot.
Though being powerful, Kebo Iwa does not have egoistic or arrogant nature. Story on the end of his life is very tragic and even it draws a variety of interpretations and meanings. It can be seen when Gajah Mada intended to conquer Bali for the realization of the unity of the archipelago. This vice regent from Majapahit kingdom considered it impossible to conquer Bali as long as Kebo Iwa was still alive. He then arranged a strategy where Kebo Iwa was picked up to be invited to Majapahit. Kebo Iwa requested the help dig a well for the kingdom in East Java experiencing water crisis. As a prize, he would be awarded a beautiful and graceful girl from Lemah Tulis.
Kebo Iwa met the request. When digging a well, the men of Gajah Mada pelted Kebo Iwa with rock stones in order the strong man from Bali could be buried alive. Kebo Iwa got up and was aware if he was deceived. He then opened the secret of his weakness where to kill him was enough to use whiting and betel leaf.
Such a word-of-mouth story also raises a variety of interpretations. Balinese people call that whiting symbolizes Lord Shiva and betel leaf symbolizes Lord Vishnu. Thus, Kebo Iwa got purification from Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu to attain moksha. In some regions, before people chew betel leaf, the tip of betel leaf is cut first. Why? It is done to commemorate the death of Kebo Iwa.
A variety of interpretations apparently cannot be resisted. For example, why was Kebo Iwa willing to die? There are commentaries saying if the ideal of Gajah Mada was very noble namely to unite the archipelago. Therefore, for the sake of unity, Kebo Iwa was willing to sacrifice his life. (BTN/015)