Photo Essay: A Traditional Balinese Cremation in Ubud

 
 An overview of the cremation grounds.

An overview of the cremation grounds.

Yeah, we have mixed feelings about Ubud, the cultural centre of Bali and Indonesia. But that doesn't mean we didn't appreciate what we saw and experienced. Ubud is indeed the place to be if you want to absorb some true Balinese culture but just like any popular city it has difficulties keeping its authenticity. Tourism is great for the economy but it has downsides as well and sometimes those downsides overpower everything else...

The Monkey Forest

The Monkey forest in Ubud is a great example. It's one of the top things to do in Ubud and for a reason: Ancient temples hidden in a forest owned by monkeys. It sounds cool and it is cool because they could've easily filmed some great movies there. The only downside? People, people and more people.

 Doesn’t get more crowded than this…

Doesn’t get more crowded than this…

But the crowds are not the real problem, it's human behavior that's off putting when visiting a beautiful place like this. When people are in large groups they tend to ignore rules and guidelines and it seems like everyone forgets how to behave. Well, not everyone of course but it's really mind blowing what people are willing to do and risk for a picture with a monkey... A friendly reminder: monkeys carry diseases and they bite.

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Of course we're people as well and become part of the crowds too but I do believe we travel differently and try to be more conscious and respectful of being a guest in another country. Respect for sacred spaces and other cultures gets lost in the crowds of mass tourism and it's a problem that'll be difficult to solve as travel becomes more popular and affordable. But anyway, enough of the heavy talk. The monkey forest had a surprise in store for us...

A traditional Balinese cremation and funeral

While exploring the site, we heard some kind of music in the distance and when we came closer, saw a gathering of people. There was a cremation going on. When we arrived they were already preparing the body to be burned and in the back, people were carrying a wooden structure...

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I wasn't sure if it would be appropriate to take pictures so I asked one of the people that seemed to be in charge by showing him my camera and he gave me a nod that it was OK. I took some pictures trying not to interfere with the rituals and it was a very interesting experience. It felt similar to an Indian Hindu cremation but less rough around the edges and more festive.

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The culture of life and death

In Bali, funerals are important events and the size and expense depends on the caste, wealth and prestige of the person who died. A cremation is a festive occasion with huge processions. Some speeches were made and a group of people behind us were chanting and making music; all sounded very mystical. Then, some kind of flame-thrower was fired up and aimed at the dead. A blazing flame set the body on fire and everyone had to take a few steps back because of the heat.

 Burning the body.

Burning the body.

 Burning the body.

Apparently the temperature goes up to 2,000 degrees and we watched as the palm logs and leaves caught fire. The crowd stood mesmerized and in the back a group of men started to burn the wooden structure. When a blue smoke started to cover the trees like fog, the mystical atmosphere was complete.

 Cremation in Bali.
 Cremation in Indonesia.

Ubud might suffer from mass tourism but I'm glad we were there and where able to witness a real Balinese cremation. We travel to learn and experience cultures and surprises like this is what it's all about. We only stayed for a short amount of time but that was more than enough to learn just a little more about a beautiful culture...

 
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Joris Hermans is a portrait, documentary and travel photographer based in Belgium. Since 2009 he has been combining personal and freelance work and won several awards, among them a Nikon Press Photo Award in 2017. In 2018 he set off on a journey around the world with his girlfriend documenting everything on The World Ahead Of Us...

Portfolio: www.jorishermans.com
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@hermans.joris

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