THE walk up to the Trunyan cemetery in Bali is littered with skulls and human bones which have been set up on stones.
This is a byproduct of the nearby villagers’ unique death ritual that sees the deceased placed above ground at the foot of a tree to simply decompose in the open air.
One might think that such a laissez faire practice would lead to not only an unstoppable vermin and carrion bird infestation, but also an unlivable stench. However, when the bodies are laid out, they are placed at the foot of a large banyan tree which the villagers consider holy, and which seemingly masks the scent of the corpses. This sacred funeral rite is performed when one of the village’s number dies of natural causes, at which time a white sheet is placed over the body and they are laid out. Others are laid out above ground and covered with bamboo teepees.
The villagers who adhere to this practice belong to a group known as the Bali Aga, people who have descended from the original Balinese natives. Their unique “burial” traditions are believed to go back hundreds of years, yet there does not seem to be a case of the exposed corpses presenting a health or comfort issue. In fact, a number of tourists visit the site each year, to the point where it is now common to be approached repeatedly by villagers asking for donations, and even getting there requires exorbitant bribes for boat transportation. However, one thing nearly no one is complaining about is the smell, so maybe their holy banyan is more than just a superstitious tourist magnet.