The elderly woman’s body lies inside the house in a coffin covered only by a thin white veil. Aside from the coffin, the room is void of furniture. A dozen members of the family and surrounding village sit cross-legged on the multi-colored plastic woven mat spread across the tile floor. I add my sandals to the pairs already stacked in front of the open door and step inside.
Delviana Naibaho—a co-worker at the Deaconess Theological School where I teach in a town a three-hour drive away on windy pot-hole ridden roads through the Sumatran rainforest—greets me. I call her “Ibu,” a word that means mother, but is also a polite form of address for women akin to “ma’am.”
Today, to show support to Ibu Naibaho, I attend her mother’s wake with a delegation from the school.
“Turut berduka cita, bu,” (my condolences, ma’am), I tell her as we shake hand and sniff cheeks in the Indonesian manner.
Back in early December, I went to the funeral for the father of the director of the deaconess school where I teach. Here is a glimpse into the funeral celebration for an old grandfather in the Batak culture.
After the death, the body is laid in an open casket in the family home. Family and people from the village come to pay their respects. The party is the final act before burial. Much like the party for a wedding, the funeral party in the Batak tradition is an all-day event.
There are certain traditions and customs that take place on the day–exchanging gifts and traditional dancing called “tortor”. Friends and family come again to pay respects, and a meal of saksang (a dish made of minced pork meat cooked in blood and spices) is shared. Finally, when the customs have been completed, the body is taken to the church for a short worship then placed at the gravesite. It was a long day for me. Along with some of the students, I traveled from Balige to the village of Sidamanik to attend.