Cemeteries in Indonesia tend to be divided based on religious or ethnic groups. On my first week in Makassar, I went to visit the cemetery where my paternal grandparents were buried. It’s called Bolangi, an ethnic Chinese cemetery, located outside of Makassar in Gowa. It took us about an hour to get there by car. It’s located in the middle of nowhere that on the way there we passed through fields and fields of rice paddies.
The driving there was horrible. The first town that we hit after we left the city border of Makassar was Sungguminasa. In Sungguminasa, the street condition wasn’t bad, although some parts of the street already shows sign of deteriorating condition due to the current rainy season. Once we turned into the street that took us away from Sungguminasa to Bolangi, the fun started. Streets were very small for both ways, and they have many pot holes, some of them were so big that it was dangerous for cars to go through. We also picked a wrong day to go in terms of the weather. It was raining ALL day long, non-stop, but we decided to keep going anyway instead of trying our luck in another day. Also according to my father, to cancel the trip means bad luck, so we persevered.
We got there in one piece, but we almost cancelled it at one point. About only 5 minutes away from the Bolangi cemetery, a big truck with one missing tire was sitting on one side of the road. Because of its size, it took over almost the entire road. To make the situation worse, right next to the truck on the other side of the road, there was a big gaping hole on the street. It looked dangerous enough for any car to go over it. My father who was driving the car decided at first to not drive through the hole and turn around. However, he then saw many other cars, even trucks, managed to drive through from the other side, and so he decided to turn around again to try his luck. With a very slow and careful driving, we made it through. Meanwhile, the rain had not let up yet. Even with an umbrella for each person, we still got wet.
I remember a little bit about the cemetery from when I visited it once in 1994. It was a pretty new cemetery location at that time because the whole cemetery was moved from its old location in Makassar. At the old location, people can now see the provincial gubernatorial’s office. Needless to say, it is rumored that it is haunted. Hoki (Indonesian’s word for luck), I guess. Huh! Anyway, going back to the topic. When we got to Bolangi this time, what I saw was exactly as how I remembered it in 1994. We had to climb up a bit because the cemetery was built on a small hill. Because it was raining, it made the ground a bit slippery on that day. Worse, cows apparently tend to run loose in the area because we had to walk carefully so not to step on some of their “leftovers.” Anyway, it took us about 10 minutes to locate my grandparents’ tomb because it has been about a year since the last time my parents visited. Both my grandparents were buried in one tomb. The tomb was surrounded by twines and some kind of ivy plants, with thorns. Some big plants have even decided to grow on the top of the grave itself. It was obviously not taken care of by the caretaker, a problem that is unfortunately very typical in Indonesia. Unless my parents go there once a month, the cemetery caretakers don’t usually do what they are supposed to do, which is to clean the tombs and graves regularly based on the agreement between caretakers and the relatives/famiilies of the buried ones. Here in Makassar and other places in Indonesia, the tradition is that the caretakers are paid directly by the relatives. The only problem with this tradition is who can monitor the work when the cemetery is located so far away from the city? Fortunately, there is one day every year when the cemetery is crowded. Based on the ethnic Chinese culture, there is one day every year when families/relatives come to give their respect to their loved ones. Usually about a week before this day, all caretakers suddenly get very busy in doing their job.
It was too bad that the tomb was not clean and cleared from plants. I took some pictures, and it looked sad. Because of the condition and the rain, it made me lost the sentimental feeling I was expecting to have. It’s another tradition here in Indonesia to pour flowers and small pieces of pandan leaves on top of the grave. Well, we couldn’t even get to the sides of the grave to pour the flowers and leaves, so we could only throw them from the front of the tomb. We then said a quick and short prayer, I said hello to oma and opa when I threw the flowers, and that was it. It was over so fast, but we were soaking wet by then. I was and AM happy, though, that I could at least visit my oma and opa. It was my second time visiting the grave, but the last time I was there, it only contained opa, whom I never met. It was, however, my first time there since oma died in 1996.
Overall, the mission was accomplished. We had so many factors that tried to stop us from accomplishing it, but we persevered and made it through. My memory of my oma will always stay with me, in my heart. Whether I felt that feeling that day while I was there at the cemetery or not, the point is that I was there. May they continue to rest in peace. In the mean time, I do strongly believe that cows should not be turned loose in cemeteries. Try to figure your way around their droppings when the ground was soaking wet with running water and I bet you’d agree with me. Ugh.