Bali Cremation

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24 September 06 - 2100 - Serangan Island, Bali, Indonesia

The royal family, in white mourning in the temple
The royal family, in white mourning in the temple

I saw a funeral today. Not what I expected, though I have come to expect the unexpected. People didn't appear to be in mourning. There were no somber words spoken to a silent congregation - at least, not that I saw. Perhaps that happened days ago, or behind closed doors.

Outwardly, though, the occasion was paramount to a street party. Bright colors, rakish hats and clothes. Children played underfoot. Venders perused the streets, shoving desireables under the noses of white-skinned tourists, who in turn either ignored them or engaged in bargaining, only to be hounded by five more. Drinks, snacks, sarongs, hats, pencils, chopsticks, fans, carvings... if it could be sold, it was for sale. And despite the number of times I said "No, thank you" to each one, they kept coming back. "Five dollar!" (No, thank you.) "Three dollar." (Sorry, no.) "Okay, one dollar. One dollar!" (No.) "Okay okay, two for three dollar, okay?" (What part of 'no' don't you understand?) "Alright, sir, two for two and a half dollar!"

The pyre, aflame
The pyre, aflame

I could write all day about the street vendors in Indonesia. But the point is, this definitely wasn't what I would recognize as a funeral.

The deceased was the grandmother of a king, I believe. Or maybe some high-up lady in the royal family of Ubud (Bali has several different 'kingdoms'). So that probably accounted for all the locals. Tourists don't really need an excuse. If it's in Indonesia, it'll be a cultural experience, even if it's ordering a Big Mac in Kuta.

Also, the woman died two months ago. People probably mourned, got over it (except perhaps the immediate family), and got ready to party. There was a band. There were big floats, the one which held the casket being supported by 200-odd men. And there was a procession. People flocked from all over Bali - and all over Indonesia - to see the event. The streets of Ubud were flooded with thousands of people, slurping back Cokes and snapping pictures.

For all this, though, at the cemetery there was hardly any ceremony at all. The pyre (actually a giant papier-mâché, wood, and gold cow) was prepared, offerings were given, pictures taken, and the fire was set. No pomp, no ceremony. Half an hour later, Ubud was down to its typical population density. A very strange day indeed.

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