Custom and Religion In Indonesia – Mortuary Rites

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“Good” deaths must also, of course, be attended by a lenghty sequence of elaborate funerary rites

When a person dies, it is universally thought that the soul is at first resentful and potentially harmful. Some rites are therefore specifically designed to confuse the soul and to dissuade it from returning to speek the company of the beraved. It is a widespread custom in Sumatera., Kalimantan, Southern Sulawesi and Halmahera, for instance, to send the corpse out of the house through a gap in the wall or floor of the house, which is then sealed so the shadow cannot find its way back. The path on the way from the graveyard is sometimes also strewn with obstancles, to impede the soul’s return to the village. Likewise, mourning customs often involve the substitution of unusual foods and clothing in the household or in the community, so as not excite the envious attention of the deceased.

There is a wide variety of beliefs in Indonesia concerning the fate of a person’s soul after death. For three days, according to one widespread view, the soul is not conscious of its death; though when it leaves the corpse, it often does so through the mouth, in the form of an insect or a bird.

It is very commonly believed, however, that a soul cannot make the final journey to the land of the ancestors (usually pictured as a boat voyage or a flight atop a sacred bird) until a suitable mortuary feast has been held, one that both honours the deceased and provision his spirit for a safe and orderly passage to the world of the dead.

Assembling the requisite for such a mortuary feast is generally a complicated and ecpensive undertaking, one in which the living descendants must pool their resources, sall in communal obligations and the on additional debts in order to put on the best possible showing. These arrangements take many mounths and often years to complete. Meanwhile the corpse lies wrapped in special shrouds in the house, in a special death house or pavilion, in a tree, or buried temporarily in a grave. Eventually,  the bones are wrapped or exhumed and cleaned, and then given a final burial or creamtion in a festive ceremony that is accompanied by many lavish offerings – often including the sacrifice of valuable livestock. This is followed by feasting, dancing, processions, music and rites performed by funeral specialists

The most famous Indonesian funeral feasts are those of the Toraja of South Sulawesi (see “Visiting Torajaland”), though for most visitiors, the dramatic and colourful cremations of the Balinese are more memoriable. The final burial maybe in a cave (as among the Torajans), or in a great stone urn or huge sarcophagus (as among the Batak, the Niah and the Sumbanese). Following a creamtion, the ashes are either kept in a claypot or strewn in the ocean (as among the Balinese).

The skulls and bones of the deceased are preserved and honoured among many tribes in Kalimantan and Irian Jaya. And for many Indonesians, graves or representative effigies, statues, stone or masks are thought to be inhabited by the benecolent spirits of powerful ancestors.

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