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Wednesday, 30 October 2013

A Tomb Worth Dying For: A Funeral in Sumba, Indonesia - Page 2

Written by Shivaji Das
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The pigs were brought out first. Machete blades struck and the pigs fell. Dry grass was spread over the dead pigs and lit. “Take our photos,” the young butchers invited, posing with the burning carcasses. The charred meat was sent to the kitchen.

Soon, people queued up. It was time for lunch: tomato salad, pig soup, yellow rice, potato fries, mixed vegetables, and diluted syrup to drink. They pushed you to the front. Everyone wanted to serve you. You ended up with an unbelievably large meal.  

Soon after lunch; they brought out the first buffalo.  You can hardly breathe in anticipation. Desmond, the village head, whispers to you, “Only the most experienced are allowed to strike. What if the blow cuts the rope? The buffalo could kill us then. What if he hits the horns? So humiliating!” The man in charge gives a quick blow to the jugular. A bloody mist spurts out; then a waterfall. Men come forward, jumping and squealing, brandishing machetes, “ka ka ka ka ka”. The crowd becomes fluid; moving left, forward, backward, right, following the movements of the wounded beast. The coconut trees, with the dangling children, are swaying too. Desmond urges you, “Take pictures now, did you get it, now, now, get its dying eyes!” Everyone is taking pictures. People are screaming. Your heart is pounding. They are spitting betel saliva mix. The road has turned red and wet. The buffalo falls. The flies that circled it all its life finally get the chance to dig in to its meat.

People rush to bring in the second buffalo. Cameras click. Babies wail. Your heart is a time bomb. Blow after blow falls on the animal’s neck. You stay on to watch.  Finally the pink buffalo is brought. “This one is strong,” says Desmond. “This will be good.” A lean man strikes; opening a river of blood. But the buffalo doesn’t move; the crowd goes silent. Even the dancing warriors stop. Suddenly it pulls, dragging six men with it. The dancers shriek, “Kakakakaka!” Women and children flee. “This one has so much life!” screams Desmond, laughing. It has no chance.

Seven buffaloes and four pigs are slaughtered that day. Desmond explains, “According to Marapu, blood spilled in front of the house ensures the dead’s passage to heaven. These animals will join her there.” Names are called and the meat is distributed among all including you. Desmond says, “These animals are precious. We only eat meat during such feasts.”

Suddenly women wail. The corpse is brought outside. Young girls carry wreaths of paper flowers. Wooden poles hold open the capstone of the tomb and the corpse is laid inside. Men close the lid; her final journey has begun, inside a Sumbanese tomb.

(Page 2 of 3)
Last modified on Thursday, 31 October 2013

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