Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Funeral in Sumba Island

Ten years ago, British traveller Richard Cain was in the island of Sumba in Indonesia. He thought he might have a look at the famous megaliths on the island. Here is his story:

“........ what I didn’t know was that they are still making them. As it happened, I was in time for the laying of a new tomb and the accompanying funeral of one of the local chiefs."

Megalith in the foreground, from Anders Poulsen

"I was fortunate enough to be invited to the funeral and to stay in a nearby village. When asking about the deceased, I was surprised to be told that I could see him the following day, the day before the funeral. After all, not many foreigners come by, and he would be very interested to meet me."

From Richard Cain’s Global Wanderings

"So I met the chief, who seemed to be in glowing health. He told me that he was having his funeral now, as it was a very expensive affair and why should he miss all the fun? He also couldn't trust his family to stump up the cash for it when he died. Apparently this is the custom for chiefs in these parts. We also talked about this and that, and he offered his condolences for my recent loss. When I showed my surprise, he told me that his people shared my grief at the loss of one of my royal family, namely Princess Diana. This was September 1997."

FromAnders Poulsen

"On the day of the funeral, I went to the chief's village. I saw a huge group of men pulling an enormous chunk of rock. It must have been 30 feet long and 15 feet wide and about 3 or 4 feet thick. Tree trunks were being used as rollers and they had been manhandling this slab, to be laid on the chief’s tomb, for many months as it had come from a quarry far away. Standing on top was a very fierce man, with a colourful sarong and bandana and an enormous machete in his belt. He was calling out time through a megaphone. There was also a sail on the slab to help them on their way. This was to be the final day of heaving, as they were to pull the slab the final few metres to its eventual resting place."


"Every now and then from the village square came music from a small band. This was a signal to stop pulling and to meet another delegation from various local villages. They had come to pay their respects to the chief and to offer presents. These were mainly pigs and buffalos, which were led ahead of the delegation and then ritually slaughtered in the tiny square. There were also a few modern gifts, including a few cartons of cigarettes and bags of sugar."

From Richard Cain’s Global Wanderings

"I must admit after the 50th (animal) was slaughtered, I think I had seen enough.”

Excerpt from

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