Bali, Indonesia, July, 1995
Exhumation / Inhalation
or : Catching a Whiff of Cremation
or : picnicking at an exhumation with the kids.
We stand in the bone yard and watch them dig up their ancestors. The men take turns digging. Some do it because it's their brother, father or mother down there. Some do it for the coins they find in the eye sockets of the dead. When the shrouded corpse is unearthed, a frenzy of yelling starts that is intended to ward off the evil spirits. Then spirits are poured on the putrifying corpse to deodorize it. The men wash the flesh off the half-decomposed corpses. The kids want an ice cream from the vendor at the grave side. After the corpse is washed it is wrapped in cloth and brought to the funeral pyre. Twenty-six papier-mache bulls are waiting to be set ablaze.Facsimiles of well-endowed bulls have been constructed for the dead men, who will make up in the afterlife for what they may have missed in their sex life. Women get a representation of a cow, complete with a meticulously embroidered yoni.
Many cremations in Bali these days are purely symbolic. But these funerals use real corpses, and flame throwers are needed to incinerate the decomposing material. A mourner climbs up a palm tree next to a funeral pyre, stringing a gasoline-filled oil drum to a fuel line leading to the kindling. Twenty-six oil drums hung five meters above the blaze ... Seemed like a good time to go fetch lunch. When we return with take-out from Nasi Campor, the pyres are blazing. Men stand around smoking clove cigarettes and poking the burning logs, or moving an arm into the inferno, rolling a head onto the embers. The smoke is thick. It fills our lungs, flavoring our lunch. When we return to our rooftop home, we wash the smoky film of dead fluids from our bodies.We all go to sleep in the same bed, huddled together to feel each other's warm flesh and pumping hearts. YOU WANT TO KNOW HOW LONG THEY LEAVE THEM IN THE GROUND BEFORE THEY DIG EM UP