A death on the road to Ubud

Drummers do their best to confuse the spirit during the Bali funeral procession. Picture: Chris Mannolini

Drummers do their best to confuse the spirit during the Bali funeral procession. Picture: Chris Mannolini

It was on a recent short trip to Bali that I was pleased I lived by a valuable maxim: never have your camera too far away when travelling.

I was being driven from the south of the island to the inland town of Ubud, when traffic on the single-lane road came to a halt outside a village. A police officer waved us to a stop and spoke briefly to my driver. When I asked what was going on the driver told me in his basic English, “Someone has died.”

Funeral processions in Bali are renowned for their colour and spectacle, and one was heading towards me on this warm, muggy day. I grabbed my camera.

The funeral tower makes its way down the road. Picture: CHRIS MANNOLINI

The funeral tower makes its way down the road. Picture: Chris Mannolini

In Hindu processions, the whole village of the deceased participates. A funeral tower is built to transport the body from the deceased’s home to the cemetery. Along the way, the villagers shout and chant and bang drums to confused the deceased’s spirit so that it does not return to the home and haunt the family. To this end, the tower is spun around from time to time, especially at cross-roads. Fortunately for me, there was a cross-road not far from our car, where I had walked to get a better view.

One of the first things paraded looked like a small bed made of straw and carried on the shoulders of four villagers. Other villagers and military personnel and various officers appeared next, followed by a procession of drummers banging instruments of various sizes.

Next came the funeral tower, leaning at times precariously as it was carried by a team of village men dressed mostly in black. On the side of the tower was a picture of an elderly man, no doubt the deceased, whose body was now somewhere in the tower, while a young villager dressed in white (perhaps a relative, I don’t know) hung on to the side of the tower as the procession made its way rather unsteadily down the main street of the village.

As it reached the cross-road, the villagers in black carrying the tower whooped and hollered and swung the tower uneasily around three times, then continued on their way to the local cemetery further down the road, followed by a small line of solemn villagers, which I took as the family themselves. It was the one time during the spectacle that I felt I should not take photos. The funeral procession was a public event taking in the whole village, but here was the private angle of grief and mourning.

A close-up of the funeral tower and its passengers. Picture: CHRIS MANNOLINI

A close-up of the funeral tower and its passengers. Picture: Chris Mannolini

Once the procession disappeared down the road, the first cars lining the side of the road sprang to life and I had to run back to my car and jump in. I couldn’t hold people up. Life, and the traffic, goes on.

I would have liked to capture some of the scenes with a wider angle. However, while I had my Canon 5D close by, I had my 50mm prime lens attached at the time. Hence, I was stuck with the focal length. Still, I think I got some interesting shots. I hope you agree.

You can see all of my photos from my trip to Bali, including of the funeral procession, Bingin Beach and Ubud, at my Flickr site.

– Chris Mannolini

Did I get all my information about Bali funeral processions correct? Do you have more information or other experiences of these events? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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4 Comments »

    • It looks like you had a great time in Ubud, though, backpackerlee, as I did. I also did the Campuhan ridge walk, and I think I walked passed the same rice paddies that you did. It’s an amazing place. I loved the jungle and rice paddies.

      Thanks for the comment.

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