Megalithing tomb in Anakalang, Sumba

Death to the budget! Graves in Sumba

Sumba is a graveyard of bodies and good intentions. Physically, it is littered with impressive megalithic tombs and their hideous modern counterparts. Financially, it is littered with development projects that haven’t quite developed anything.

Megalithing tomb in Anakalang, Sumba

“Megalithic” sounds ancient, and many are, but they are still being built today. The tomb in the photo above was built in the 1970s; it took several hundred people the best part of a year to drag the stones on wooden rollers from the quarry to the burial site, and months more to carve. It’s “voluntary” work, but workers need to be fed, and richly. That makes for a lot of dead buffalo. No huge surprise that many people are now using cement and tiles. Since the tile-piles have doors in them (to make it easier to shove family members in as they die) the island looks increasingly like a repository for surplus public loos, though some families are prettying them up (and covering their bets) with pictures of Jesus.

Modern Megalithics: the Jesus tomb

Not wanting to be outdone, the island’s Christians Proper (often ethnic Chinese) have got Public Works to weigh in with cement. The Christian graveyard has a lovely new fence, in a delicate shade of primrose. Its cement pillars are carefully placed so that any Indonesian child and most adults can walk comfortably between them. And it cost this district, which scores close to the bottom of the national ranking on education and health, just 314 million rupiah (a cool US$ 30,000). This certainly doesn’t compare with the cost of a traditional West Sumba tomb, but still…

Slaughtering the budget: graveyard wall in West Sumba

May everyone rest in peace.

One thought on “Death to the budget! Graves in Sumba”

  1. Such an interesting place, Sumba. I was permitted to shoot an entire – and now extremely rare – grave-building acara over several months, from the negotiations that secured the participation of the various clans in the tarik batu, to the ceremonial knocking-out of the ‘feet’ of the 50-ton sandstone slab onto the bed of logs, the extraordinary sight of 200+ men laboring to pull the bloody thing 2km across the dried paddy to its final resting place.
    On a later trip I watched the forced conversion of Merapu believers to Christianity and the funeral of a respected 113-year-old E Sumban Umbu clan chief get hijacked by his craven evangelical descendents (before I came down with cerebral malaria and almost died but that’s another story…)
    Drop me a line when next thru Jakarta and we can swap notes over refreshments! Cheers

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