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Wednesday, 30 October 2013

A Tomb Worth Dying For: A Funeral in Sumba, Indonesia - Page 3

Written by Shivaji Das
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All along western Sumba, one can see megalithic tombs, some over five hundred years old.  These tombs have four stone walls covered by a carved capstone. Sacrifices and feasts follow each step of tomb building; while seeking permission from the community for tomb building, obtaining rights to dig stones from the clans owning the quarries, and precise cutting of the stones. Once cut, the stones may be left at the quarry for decades as families save up or borrow enough resources to move these to the village. 

The moving of the stones is one of the most costly aspects. Stingy people avoid the whole deal and build concrete tombs on the spot. But the rich and the traditionalists would have none of this. For who can miss, if they can afford to, to create a spectacle of a thousand men using vines to pull giant slabs over wooden rollers for a week, accompanied by singing and motivational shouting, and feasts for the hired hands each day. Villagers along the way watch this in awe and ask, “Whose family is it?” That’s the stardust moment of life in Sumba.  The rich, therefore, build tombs for themselves when still alive.

Once at the site, a specialist stonecutter is hired to carve special symbols on the capstone. Rituals, feasts and slaughters follow this and finally one has a tomb worth dying for. 

Intoxicated from the day’s events, you head back,  You realize that there are many layers to a Sumbanese, shaped from poverty and harsh weather, a penchant for visual displays of violence, a history of bloody communal fights, rigid social norms; and yet they welcome strangers with respect and the humblest of smiles, stained blood red, from the betel nut they chewed all day.


©Shivaji Das

Shivaji Das was born and brought up in the north-eastern province of Assam in India. He is presently working as a management consultant in Singapore. Shivaji’s writings have been published in various magazines such as Time, Venture Mag, Hack Writers. His photographs have been selected for various exhibitions in Singapore and Malaysia. Shivaji takes an active interest in migrant issues and eradication of underage poverty and is associated with Singapore based organization TWC2.



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Last modified on Thursday, 31 October 2013

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