I Wayan Wandres - Death Rites and Cremation in Bali

Back to: North Bali People

Feb 20, 2009
Kakek, (I Wayan Wandres) couldn't die, but he wanted to. He hoped to die of natural causes, he already talked for years about it, but it didn't happen. He already had saved all kind of white cloth, and even a batik sarong for his death bed. He had this stuff for years.

When I first met him people told me he was about 107 years old. But he never had a birth certificate. He supposed to have worked for the Dutch however, and yes, he still knew some Dutch words. He also supposed to have served in the Indonesian army, but sadly lost his army papers, so he never got the pension he was entitled to. I heard someone telling he was 121 years when he died, and another said he told he was born in 1918, but lied about his age so he could join the army.
He also was involved in a dispute about land on the "Pemaron Coastline", there where Baruna Beach Cottages is located, but never had a chance, because more powerful people had a say, I guess.

Still. Besides his age, also his origins are a bit of a myth. He never knew his parents or other family. He was supposedly found as a baby floating in a small raft in the ocean, just saved in time before dying. Worked hard in his youth. He had 5 wives, and many many children. Was the first to drive a car in the North of Bali. Was once one of the richest man in the village. The word is that he could have (and took) every girl he wanted when he was still young.

His powerful personality made him not a really wanted guest, people said. It was suggested he had psychic powers beyond the normal, and people sometimes discussed the transfer of these powers after Wayan Wandres would die. A hole in the roof would possibly liberate these powers after his death. Or else the first person who entered the room of the deceased may inherit the powers. It may not be good idea that this would happen.

His son (my father in law) spend a lot of his fathers wealth on "the pleasures of life", and finally everyone was poor, and people don't have much good to say anymore about the family. Wayan Wandres was powerful, but too kind for his son.

Here the videos of his death rites and cremation: (beware, explicit imagery)

Kakek Wayan Wandres lived in a small house behind the house of the parents of my wife, together with his 5th wife, a son, and a kid of a son who died some years ago of a stroke. In contrast to what I believed about how families in Indonesia "worked", Kakek Wandres was not really cared about in his old age. His wife took care of food. She works here and there to assemble rice, coffee and what else is needed. During the years I sometimes gave Kakek Wandres and his wife some money, and took him to the doctor a few times. I didn't do much. But it seemed as the rest of the family didn't do anything at all. His sons seemed to hardly talk to him. His grandson didn't seem to care at all. Its not the first time that I see an elderly person, while still living in a community, sort of ignored. I even suspected the son and grandson living in the house of Kakek Wandres taking some of the little money I gave to Kakek.

Over the years Kakek Wandres became skinnier and skinnier. He really became a "bag of bones", a walking skeleton. I hardly understood how somebody could still be alive like that. But he could even laugh at times, and hold his great grandsons at times.

But about two weeks ago, Kakek Wandres had enough of it all. He must have realized he would not die of natural causes. It simply didn't happen, he would live forever, old and skinny, mostly ignored.

He decided to lie down in his dirty bed, and not to eat anymore. When Dewi and I visited him, he already didn't come out of bed for 3 or 4 days. When we spoke to him, it was as he deliberately ignored his urge to answer. He couldn't ignore his thirst, but was very strong in ignoring food. Sometimes a bit delirious, he said something, and accepted an egg once in a while. He urinated and faceted in his bed, sometimes cleaned by his 5th wife.

Dewi said Kakek was sick, but I told her he was killing himself, by not eating. Two weeks I said, and he would die.

While his son was praying several times in temples for his father not to die, because the son would have a ceremony to be "raised" to "Jero Gede", a higher form of priesthood in the next few days. (if his father died before the ceremony he would not able to attend this ceremony)

Kakek thought who laughs last, laughs best, and died on Friday the 13th, one day before his sons ceremony. His death was discovered by my pregnant wife holding a year old nephew. There was no hole in the roof. Somehow it seemed that the family wanted to keep his death silent, in order to have his son's ceremony go on. Many family came to see the body of Kakek Wandres, and also the little children touched Kakek's already cold body.

Panca, his grandson, on training in Nusa Dua, told the family how Kakek visited him the night before his death. He sat on Panca's bed when Panca woke up during the night, but didn't say anything when Panca asked how he got there. After Panca went to the bathroom, Kakek was gone again.

Of course all kind arrangements had to made. First a "good day" needed to be found for either a burial or a cremation. I was asked to finance whatever needed to be financed, and asked the cost for all options, including Ngaben, the ceremony that would release the soul of Kakek Wandres to ascent to Bali heaven. It proved that a full Ngaben ceremony would be quite expensive for a single person. Rough estimations where around 40-60 million rupiah. We decided on a simple burning, "bakar". This would release the soul of Kakek from his earthly body to the Pura Dalem of the village, where he could dwell until a mass cremation was organized for the village.

Price for the "Bakar" was given bij de village priesthood organization (Griye) was 6 million, an another 500 thousand would be needed for the "comfor mayat"; the burning of the body. I did some asking around and offered 4,5 million + 500.000. It was accepted immediately. This 4,5 million was for all the offers needed during the "last rites", until the release of the ashes in the ocean and the spiritual cleaning of the house afterward. Other family brought in another 600.000 rupiah for a gamelan orchestra.

Dewi and I did some shopping for white cloth, decoration attributes and other stuff needed for the long wait until the cremation, the "good day" was established six days later on the 19th of February. This would mean quite a cost on ice, to keep Kakek in a condition where he could receive his last rites.

In the last six days of his physical presence on earth, Kakek Wandres recieved more guests than in his last six years. Especially from the village men, because it has become common to gamble during the wake in the evening and night. Gambling is otherwise forbidden, but presented as a pastime during the wake, its "allowed".

In the first days after Kakek died I was a bit pissed. Nobody seemed to have cared about him much, but now, no costs should be spared or things left undone "for Kakek". I was also pissed at the high prices people have to pay for the "banten", the offers. It seemed like a business somehow, with (negotiable) prices for blessings and heaven controlled by the priests.

I had a small talk with the head of religious affairs of the village, the Kelian Adat, about the proceedings, prices for cremations and the burden for the people because of that. My intentions where to ask some critical questions, especially since he said "its symbolic only". But my critical attitude disappeared when he during his explanations knocked on his own body and told it needed to be burned to release his soul.

And I sort of broke when I saw Kakek's son, my father in law, make decorations for the coffin which would carry Kakek Wandres to the graveyard for his cremation. It looked a bit like kindergarden work, but done with great sincerity. And when another foreigner visited the family compound, I heard myself explaining to this Bali newbie why and how (as far as I could). During my explanations to him, I "forgave" the dozens of visitors who didn't care much about Kakek when alive, and saw the greater good of his death and the expensive offers brought during his "last rites", for the community, and the family. I felt this foreigner was an intruder, I found him stupid and ignorant, and wanted him, silently, to go. Because he became the personification of my own wrestling with the so totally different culture.

Kakek Wayan Wandres last "rites" were the washing of his body by the family members (to be clean as a baby again), the carrying to the graveyard, the cremation, and the release of his ashes in the ocean, accompanied by several prayers, offers and gamelan music. And finally the release of his soul in the Village Temple, where he will wait until the Ngaben ceremony. I had seen something like this only once before in Bali from up close, and again I was surprised how different the Balinese think and feel about death, how close they are to death, children included.

During the washing of the body, a ring of one his great grandchildren was put in Kakek's mouth for some reason. It was forgotten to be taken out again, and burned in the cremation. When people realized this, they went sort of in panic to the high priest, to ask if this didn't need to be taken care of. (by some sort of ceremony) But it wasn't a problem.

Kakek Wandres already asked me a few times for a picture to put on his coffin. It was taken from the panorama I once shot.

My Grandparents

My Grandparents

Open: My Grandparents Panorama


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