My First Ngaben

mood: super tired
listening to: Morcheeba
watching: The Road to Guantanamo


I think I will make a quite good journalist.

One of the neighbours of my landlord died on the 29th of February. She was still young, aged 25, suffered for three years of tumor. Name was Ni Putu Wiwin Mulyatini.

Ayu, the daughter in law of Bu Tunas (my landlady) offered me to go with her to this event and she told me that I should be wearing a piece of Balinese clothing wrapped around my hips.

On the due day, however, I was busy talking to Ella on the phone and I missed her by about 15 minutes [darn it!]. But nevertheless I tried to locate the ceremonial walk, which took place near my boarding house.

I ran when I saw it, but the parade was long. I lost my breath several times but I finally could catch up with them with the cost of injuring my foot with the new sandals I was wearing.

The parade on Jalan Legian.

The music guys with Balinese gamelan.

We arrived at Kuta beach (I couldn't believe they made me walk that far in order to reach this familiar spot of Kuta beach near The Wave!) at around 1:30 and they started cremating the body.

Arriving at Kuta beach.

First, the dead woman was given the last respect from families and friends (they splashed some sprinkle of water and put some sesajen or offering to the coffin). Then she was covered by typical Balinese bright yellow fabric. The head side and the feet side were connected with two LPG gas tube, and.... the fire was lighted.

Don't freak out. This was her, before cremated. Remember that she'd been ill for three years and she had only skin over bones because of the disease she was having.

And this was her when she was healthy. Poor girl. She was beautiful.

Can you see the black round spot inside this thing? It was supposed to be her head.

It took so long for them to cremate the body. Like one or two hours, and it was done with the gas! Not with the traditional wood. I walked around in the mean time, sat down occasionally with some Balinese ladies who were chatting and gossiping cheerfully, asked a lot of question to them regarding to this Ngaben ceremony. And from what I gathered, the ceremony I attended was of the middle-class family. So it was not too big, it was not too small. This medium level of Ngaben would cost around Rp 30 Million (3,000 euro). I was bewildered.
"You must be kidding me?" I said. "I would have used that amount of money for my wedding."
She said, "Well this is only a funeral. Balinese weddings would cost around Rp 80 to 100 Million."
I was rather shocked, I must say.

I met a Frenchman who was busy taking pictures and talking to people with his (both) broken Indonesian and English. Apparently that was his 7th Ngaben ceremony and he said that it was the best Ngaben he'd ever seen. I asked him why. He told me because the previous Ngabens were conducted by poorer families. And this one seemed to have more money. More question from my side: what made this one different?
"Well, you know, the colours and quality of clothing the people are wearing; the priests, there are two priests here that's amazing! And the way they did the cremation. This is just awesome."

I guess I was lucky then. Only in my first 6 months in Bali I'd already seen a very beautiful Ngaben ceremony. Even Fabio and Inga had never seen it. And they have lived here for 3 years.

After a long, waiting period of the cremation process, the people gathered again to collect the rest unburnt bones of the woman, put them in the bright yellow piece of fabric, folded it and decorated it beautifully.

The people decorating the ash and bones.

A priest on a small stage was praying for the spirit of the woman, purifying it.

Another priest at the beach to prepare her spirit before spreading the ash and bones to the sea.

I stumbled across the other priest who was left alone on the other side of the beach nearby, accompanied by only four women around him. I asked the women a lot of questions and they answered very descriptively. When the priest finished praying, he joined the conversation and explained to me that the two priests there had different roles. The one on the stage was to purify the spirit of the dead woman. He himself was to prepare her spirit to be given to the sea.

Which would happen in a short while.

When the priest on the stage finished praying, suddenly a flock of people came towards us and sat down near (behind) the priest I was talking to. Then this priest in the white robes started to lead the ceremony to prepare the spirit to travel to the sea.

They then stood up (especially the men), took the beautifully decorated thing with the remaining ash and bones of the dead woman, swam to the rather deep part of the sea (of course I didn't go with them!) and every time the big wave came, they would jump up over the wave and threw part by part of the ash and bones.

They then went back to the shore. Their faces happy and smiling. Their byed one another and went to their own homes.

In some traditional tribes in Indonesia, indeed, a funeral is not a thing to cry for. But it is to celebrate for. :)


  1. ithout delving into the in-depth intricacies of the Hindu faith, the Balinese believe in reincarnation and upon death the body is merely a vessel for the soul whereby a series of complex rituals must be performed to detach the two. A cremation ceremony is just part of the process to separate the soul from the body to reunite it with God Almighty. The progression of ceremonies and rituals leading up to a cremation involves a lot of preparation. The deceaseds extended family and members of the local community donate their time to make offerings and concentrate of the death rites.

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  2. hueeee gile keren banget cerita ini. aku sampe merinding2 ngelihat the dead body!!
    thanks for sharing this experience!

  3. wueee.. mahal juga untuk sebuah prosesi pemakaman ya? tapi menarik untuk dilestarikan.

  4. Hi ,Thanks for the detail description of ngaben ceremony...I'm using ur blog as a reference for my research...hope that's ok..

  5. Ok. Thanks for letting me know. WOuld be nice to see the end result of your research too.


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