It was December 2021. The month of holiday for everyone in the village. There was supposed to be party for a whole month, though the festivities often go on for more than a month. The teachers too were finally able to go back to their hometown. It’s a happy month for everyone who lives in the village. As for me, it was a rare chance for a holiday, and my plan was to go to Bali to visit my sister and my dogs. Bali is a famous island in Indonesia for holidays.
On the 11th, right after the term report day, I went to Sorong. It is the nearest city with an airport. It’s about 3-4 hours from Sawinggrai, the village where Child Aid Papua is located. After a long while, I finally saw city life once more. Somehow, after so long in a village, I was able to enjoy the city more than before. All the noise, the people, the activity are things I surprisingly missed. But maybe, it was also because of the euphoria of the holiday.
But after I got to Bali, I received some devastating news from my fellow teachers. They said one of our beloved students, the daughter of our cook that we know well, had passed away the night before. I like her a lot and I know that she was a good person and always willing to help others. Suddenly, the happy month turned into a not-so-happy month. It was even hard to eat well knowing that someone close to you had passed away. I don’t know who said that we could only comprehend death after it had placed its hand on someone we love. What I know is how I felt related to these words once more. It started with my grandma, and now this student, I prefer not to mention her name.
But after a few days, I decided that I didn’t want to waste my holiday. I had an appointment with my sister and my friends that I had to keep. Yes, I still felt sad. But, I didn’t want it to dominate me.
A month passed quickly. I went back to Sawinggrai to continue my teaching. That same day, I went to her grave and saw her relatives still crying. After a while, once they calmed down, I finally had a chance to talk with them, to give them my sympathy, and I told them I could understand how sad it must be, but I stopped there. I didn’t want to discuss those things any further because I didn’t want to worsen their sadness.
The next day, I still saw them weeping intensely. It turned out they were doing it for a whole month. They didn’t work either. Not because they didn’t want to, but the sadness seemed so unbearable and every little thing seemed to remind the family about their daughter.
This culture is very different from mine. Since we are only allowed to be absent from work for a maximum of 2-3 days for our close relatives, we are forced to move on. To get on with our life by doing activities that we usually do and not to get dragged down by our sadness.
Although I cannot tell which one is better, I can say that there is no sure way to deal with the loss of someone close to us. But what surprises me is how it’s affecting the whole village, the children as well as the adults. They’re afraid to walk by themselves when crossing the graveyard. The graveyard is right behind Child Aid Papua’s second building. They believe it would be dangerous to walk by themselves, especially for children. Most of them believe the spirits who live there are asking for lives. It clearly shows when one of the teachers is alone at school during a holiday, some of the villagers come and insist that she needs to sleep in the village because of that particular reason.
For the mourning itself, I tried to ask my colleagues how they do it here. On the day that the girl died, they mourned together in their house before they went to the burying procession. But, because the house wasn’t big enough to hold many people, lots of them ended up scattered outside the house. The interesting thing was it was split into 2 sides, those who made the house feel like a grieving room where some were crying and the rest of them were hysterically screaming, and those who were joking around and laughing with each other. They said, they wished to lighten the grief for the lost one. Therefore, they were trying to joke around whenever possible. Because the 2 sides are so different, it may make people who are not accustomed to this culture feel kind of weird.
Another interesting thing happened right before they started the burying procession. Due to differences of faith the villagers wanted to bury the little girl outside the village. Because that the girl needed a different burial procession, she also needed a different priest, and they didn’t know how they were supposed to bury someone according to another faith. Even though it wasn’t said in words, I still think there’s a possibility they wanted the girl to be buried outside the village as an act to protect the purity of the graveyard. They seemed afraid to bury someone with a different faith in a graveyard of their ancestors.. It is understandable, but at the same time unbearable to hear someone say something like that.
Culture and religion in this matter work as a foundation of how they act. In other words, we can say it is a moral compass for the whole society. From intense grief to the mystical being running around claiming lives, it’s part of their culture. I admit that it’s still hard for people who have secular views to understand the mystical part. Then again, lots of cultural traditions are not based and made from our logical part of the brain. Perhaps it would also need a different approach to truly understand it.