The Strange Burial Customs of Trunyan Village

Aug 29, 2023 0 comments

On the eastern shore of Lake Batur, on the island of Bali, Indonesia, lies the village of Trunyan—home to the culturally isolated Bali Aga people. Living in relative seclusion amidst the mountains, the Bali Aga people have managed to preserve several elements of their Austronesian heritage, which is evident in their architectural style and cultural practices. Among these, their funeral rituals stand out as particularly noteworthy.

In Trunyan, dead bodies are not buried nor cremated. Instead, they are left out in the woods to decay. Unlike the Zoroastrians, who also expose their dead to the elements to be consumed by scavenger birds such as vultures, kites and crows, the Bali Aga people take care to protect their dead from such desecration by covering them with cages made of bamboo. Once the flesh had decomposed, the skull and other bones are retrieved and placed on a rock platform nearby to make room for new bodies.

Photo credit: Yusuf IJsseldijk/Wikimedia Commons

Intrepid travelers who have visited the cemeteries of this remote community have frequently expressed astonishment at the surprising lack of putrid smell that typically accompanies decaying corpses. The lack of smell is attributed to the presence of an old banyan tree that is referred to as Menyan Taru, or “fragrant tree”, that is said to mask the decaying smell by its sweet fragrance. However, visitors to Trunyan cemetery often claim that no such fragrance emanates from the tree. The absence of smell from the rotting corpses is somewhat a mystery.

Related: The Peculiar Burial Rites of Tana Toraja

There are three such cemeteries near Trunyan village, but only one is usually open for tourists. This is the “regular” cemetery, which is only for people who died of natural causes. Those who have met their demise through accidents or suicide do not qualify for interment in this location, but rather, they are laid to rest elsewhere. Additionally, children are excluded from this cemetery. Some sources suggest that the tradition is reserved only for married people.

Photo credit: Yusuf IJsseldijk/Wikimedia Commons

According to local lore, the Bali Aga people treat their dead this way to avoid enraging the volcano near which the town resides. To appease the volcano, identified as the Hindu god Brahma, there is also a temple in Trunyan with eleven pagodas to correspond to the eleven palm and bamboo cages in the cemetery. Once these are filled, the oldest one will be moved out and the remains dispersed along the cemetery ground.

Because burials take place only on auspicious days, and the family has to raise money for the funeral, some corpses stay at home for days or weeks before they get a chance to be interred. To prevent the corpses from going bad during the long wait villagers use formaldehyde, which might explain why these corpses do not smell.

Photo credit: Yusuf IJsseldijk/Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Yusuf IJsseldijk/Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Arfiana Rahma Shanti/Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Yusuf IJsseldijk/Wikimedia Commons


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