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Photographer's Note

Balinese cremation, or Ngaben, is a purification rite intended to free the spirit from its temporary earthly house and facilitate the journey to its next existence.

There was a handwritten note on a message board in Ubud announcing a cremation on the following day. We signed up, and for 8,000 Rp ($1), someone would provide transportation to and from the village in which the cremation was taking place. The next morning, about 12 people, mostly locals, piled into a taxi van and we were taken to the village. Shortly after arriving, we saw a group of men walking though the streets carrying a large cow. The cow, known as a lembu, is made of paper and light wood and is and believed to be the vehicle of the spirits. We followed as they made there way to a clearing on the edge of the village which serves as the cremation site. We, the tourists, had no information, nor idea as to what to expect or at what time the activities were scheduled to commence.

After the limbu had been placed at the cremation site, we ended up waiting around the village with no idea as to what to expect or when it might happen. While waiting some girls came by offering clove cigarettes, another person offered rambutan they had just picked from the trees overhead. Fortunately, another person lead me to the home of the deceased. In the home’s courtyard, a number of persons had gathered and there was a large number of spiritual offerings. The remains of the deceased were laid out on an elevated bamboo platform where a priest was performing rituals. The night before the cremation, holy water was collected from a main temple to be used in preparing the body and during the cremation ceremony.

Once the priest had completed the preparations, the body, wrapped in white sheets was carried to, and placed in a casket. The casket was carried through the village to the location where the wadah - a large throne-like structure - had earlier been placed. The wadah stood on a large platform made of bamboo. The casket was placed on the wadah and, accompanied by two sons, carried by dozens of men through the streets of the village in a frenzied manner. The men carrying the wadah changed directions often, going in circles and often backtracking in an effort to confuse the earthly spirits and enable the deceased to escape the earthly spirits.

Once the procession arrived at their ultimate destination – the cremation site, the casket was lowered from the wadah and carried overhead to the location where the lembu was placed earlier. The remains, wrapped in white cloth, were removed and placed in the lembu through an opening in the cow’s back. With the priest overseeing the proceedings, a hose was attached to the rear of the lembu. The hose ran up to a canister of fuel that was suspended overhead in a palm tree. Using fire from a holy source, the fuel was ignited and the lembu began to burn. As the intensity of the fire increased, the lembu became engulfed in flames. Once the fire consumed the lembu and it’s contents, the ashes were transported to the coast and ultimately taken to sea, to be spread in the water symbolizing the final separation of the soul from the body.

[Image scanned from 35mm colour negative.]

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Photo Information
  • Copyright: Kevin KL (kk_wpg) Silver Note Writer [C: 0 W: 0 N: 88] (361)
  • Genre: People
  • Medium: Color
  • Date Taken: 1998-02-00
  • Categories: Ceremony
  • Map: view
  • Photo Version: Original Version
  • Date Submitted: 2009-08-31 16:50
Viewed: 1993
Points: 0
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Additional Photos by Kevin KL (kk_wpg) Silver Note Writer [C: 0 W: 0 N: 88] (361)
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