I can not cover ALL death ceremonies in Indonesia as all provinces have their own ways to honor the dead. I will share the most famous ones….well, at least famous amongst Indonesian.
There are 4 major religions in Indonesia; Islam, Christian, Buddha and Hindu… but, somewhere in between, there are still so many ancient beliefs, or religions based on their ancestors. For the 4 major religions, the ways they treat their deceased are similar with those from other countries. Muslim will wrap the dead body in white fabric which we called Kafan, Christian will embalm the dead body and dress them in their best suit, and both Hindu and Buddha will cremate the dead body. However, there are some ceremonies taken place before they buried the dead…this probably different to other countries.
When I went back to Padang (the capital of West Sumatra) last year, I saw their tradition for the 1st time. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take any pictures because that will be an inappropriate act. The moment someone was declared as someone who had passed away, the neighbors will start doing some errands, some will borrow some thick fabrics which embroiled with passages from Quran (as most Padang people are Muslim) made of golden thread…just like the one that covers Ka’bah (the most sacred building for all Muslim around the world). Those fabrics are used to cover the walls in the room where the dead body is placed and as bed-sheet where the dead body is laying. All the neighbor will help covering both walls and bed. While Other neighbor will start announcing that someone had passed away through Mosque’s loud speaker. What amazed me is how quick those people worked! They won’t allow the family of the deceased to do anything. All they have to do is mourn for the dead.
After that, the next ceremony are same with Muslim across the world. the family will clean the decease and wrap him/her in nothing but along with Kafan.
Next to West Sumatra is North Sumatra, most people in this province are Christian. Once, one of my students told me about an interesting death ceremony in her homeland. When her grandpa passed away, she and the rest of her family went to pay their respect. After the deceased is embalmed and dressed,they will keep the body in the living room for 7days. All the family members have to sleep around the coffin. They will pray for him, sing songs that praise Jesus and many things. What interest me is, of course, the fact that all close family have to sleep near the dead body.
My friend told me the purpose of the ‘7 days’ is for giving more chance to other family members who want to give their last respect to the deceased and unable to come as fast as they can.
Now…let’s talk about the most interesting and famous death ceremonies in Indonesia!
Anyone who had been to Bali probably knew about Ngaben. Ngaben is a Hindu tradition held by people in Bali. Ngaben is said to be a way to purify someone’s soul. According to their belief, human consist of body and soul. When someone died, it is only the body…the soul still lingers on the earth. To send the soul to heaven, they have to cremate the body and perform Ngaben.
Ngaben ceremony is often called as Pelebon for the deceased, it is a sacred and merry ceremony because they believe that the family is about to release their love ones from any ties with this world and send then to heaven and reincarnation. This ceremony takes a lot of planning, effort, money, and time…that’s why Ngaben is often done long after the decease had passed away. Very rich people can easily do Ngaben because they can afford it,they will only wait for the best day to do it. But for common people,they have to save up money years after the decease had passed away.
The body will be carried in Padma (The symbol of God”s house) and then moved to Pemalungan (a place to burn the body in shape of a Cow). The priest will perform Pralina (burning with abstract fire which consist of mantra to purify the soul). After that,the real fire will burn the body along with the cow statue. The process will take about 1 hour. The ash will be placed in Kelapa Gading (gading coconut) and released in the sea as the sea is considered as the house of God.
The pictures DO NOT belong to me, both are taken from Topik Warna-Warni, he has so many pictures and I only chose 2 of them. you can see the rest of the pictures by clicking the link to his page.
In Toraja (South Sulawesi), death ceremony, which is called as Rambu Solok, is the most expensive and important ritual. The richer and powerful the decease the ceremony will be more expensive. Their religion is called Aluk. The ceremony will take few days to finish and invited thousands of people. Just like Ngaben, Rambu Solok also held weeks or months after the deceased had passed away.
Toraja tribe believe that death isn’t something that come so suddenly,it is a process to go to Puya (the spirit world). Before they go to Puya, the body will be kept in tongkonan. The spirit of the deceased will stay in the village until the ceremony is over.
Part of the ceremony is performing hamstrung on several buffaloes,but they are doing it while the buffalo is still standing and they let the blood squirt out. While doing this,the visitor will dance and sing and even try to catch the squirting blood. The head of the buffaloes will be lined up as the ride that will be used by the soul of the deceased. The deceased is walked to the burial area in a line of people (see the picture)
Apart from the ceremony, Toraja is very famous with its burial place. they put the dead body in a rock hill. They put wood doll to represent the deceased.
That’s all for now, I’ll get back to this topic again when I already find more sources. Indonesia is a big country with hundreds of tradition that even people who live in Indonesia unable to know them all.