WARNING - THIS BLOG POST IS NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART. IT IS FILLED WITH GRAPHIC IMAGES OF BLOOD, DEATH, AND ANIMAL SACRIFICES. VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
This past weekend, I had the honor and privilege to be invited to witness the Tiwah ritual that is part of the Kaharingan Hindu religion. It is when families take the bones of their deceased and move them to what is called a Sandung. This ritual happens very rarely because of the cost to put it on. I was told between 9 and 22 families got together for this one. The last one performed was at least 8 years ago. I will take you through the steps of what I witnessed and you can see the images in the gallery at the end.
This is a banner of all of the deceased being honored in this particular ritual.
I went to Balai Kaharingan and saw one of the Basir, a medium that communicates with the spirits, surrounded by offerings to their Gods. He was chanting in Dayaknese and asking the spirits what kinds of animals they would like sacrificed to them. He will be told what kind of animal, what color, etc. They will get these animals together and start the ritual. This is that medium.
Saturday morning I woke up early and went back to Balai Kaharingan. We were met by Basir Ugoi, the head Basir who invited me to watch the entire ritual. He is the father of my friend Tampung. Here's a picture of Basir Ugoi, me, another Basir, and my friend (and translator) Andin.
We left from here to another part of town where the new Sandung had been placed. These are hand carved huts that the bones of the deceased will be placed in as their final resting place. But before they are put in them, a lot goes on. Here's the new Sandung.
Basir Ugoi blesses the Sandung and the earth around it with oil and rice. A chicken was then sacrificed. They take the blood of the chicken and mix it with the rice and oil. There were 3 pigs already hogtied to pieces of wood when I got there. First, one was sacrificed, and then another. They used a long dagger, about 18 inches, for this sacrifice and stab it into the throat of the animal. I can honestly say the sound that the pigs made will be with me forever. It takes quite a few minutes for the animals to bleed to death, and they scream the ENTIRE time. It's haunting. For the second pig, the man who did the sacrifice actually jammed his hand into the open wound and pulled out what looks like a vein. I can assure you, the pig was alive the whole time.
After the animals are cut, some of the blood is collected and they mix this, again, with rice and oil and Basir Ugoi splashes it around the Sandung to bless them and the area. They then open the older cement Sandung and bless the bones of the deceased inside and pray. The family of the deceased then ceremoniously take out the bones and begin to clean them by hand. They use oil and wipe it all over all of the bones. While this is taking place, Basir Ugoi is blessing the Sandung with oil and praying to the spirits. When the family is finished cleaning, the bones are placed in what looked like silk sacks and filled with money, perfume, bamboo, and palm leaves. They are all blessed and the sacks are placed in the new wooden Sandung. This is their final resting place.
After this, everyone there waited for the pigs that were sacrificed to be cooked. During this time, a lot of people wanted to have their picture taken with me. Everyone was very friendly and happy to have me be a part of this tradition. They were very welcoming. It took a few hours of waiting for the pig to be cooked. Then we ate. After the meal, we drank some beer and then we went back to Balai Kaharingan where the buffalo were being brought for the next part of the ritual.
When we got back to Balai, 5 buffalo were being brought and prepared for the sacrifices, which would take place the following morning. They were brought in one at a time and their horns were decorated with colorful bands. They were tied up to Sapundu, which are like totems of the deceased, and left over night. The Basir and families of the deceased would pray all night long.
I arrived early Sunday morning. The place was packed and the sacrifices had already begun. I'd say around 100 or more people were there to watch this ritual. I missed 2 pig sacrifices (which I didn't mind....I can still hear those screams) and 2 buffalo sacrifices. They were in the middle of the third when I walked up. For the buffalo, the Basir and members of the families take turns plunging a ceremonial spear, called a Lunju, into the buffalo's chest, aiming for the heart. I'd say it took at least 20 jabs to drop these beasts. Surprisingly, the buffalo never make a sound during this. They try to fight off the spear, but don't make any sounds. Once the animal falls to its wounds, its feet are quickly tied, they slice the throat, and they collect some of the blood. The people who took part in the sacrifice take a drop of the animals blood and place it on their forehead and their chest. Symbolically, the blood is considered pure and this gets rid of any dark energy. Then they behead the buffalo and immediately begin to butcher it. The hide will be made into ceremonial drums and the meat is split between the families. And just as we did with the pig sacrifice the day before, we waited for this to be cooked and eaten the same day.
A total of 16 buffalo were sacrificed for this Tiwah ritual. And, from what I saw, at least 4 pigs and one chicken, if not more. Being able to witness this and be a part of it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I never thought I'd see these types of traditions ever performed. I feel very honored to be able to say I was there.
The gallery below shows VERY GRAPHIC images of everything I just described. I documented this event to show what types of religious traditions there are out here. As an American, I can appreciate the right of religious freedom, even though things like this don't take place in America. As a photographer, I find it important to be able to show the world what's out there. What some find barbaric, others may find beautiful and spiritual. There was a lot of love and beauty in this ritual and I hope I was able to show that in these images.
I want to thank everyone who allowed me to be a part of this, specifically Basir Ugoi, his son Tampung, my friend Andin, and everyone else who welcomed me and made me a part of their religious ritual. It was an honor and a privilege.