Several months ago while discussing “epitaph” in Poetry Analysis Class, a student said, “Wah … it must be very expensive Ma’am. My neighbor has an undertaking business. He told me the longer the name of a person is, the more expensive the tomb is because the cost is counted per letter. Moreover if the family wants to engrave poem on the tomb. I assume this thing is especially only for rich people. Luckily here in Java, people don’t have a habit to engrave epitaph.”

 

As far as I know, in Indonesia, people can find tombs with epitaph mostly in Manado, North Sulawesi where people know there are many people with mixed blood (Indonesian and Dutch) so that it is concluded that the habit of engraving epitaph comes from Dutch people that used to live in Manado and marry women there. If it is related to the beginning history of America, the Puritans left England to look for a new place to live in where they could embrace any religion and practice the rituals they believed, some moved to Holland. They must have brought this engraving tomb from England to Holland, (and then from Holland, they brought it to Indonesia, especially in Manado) while those migrating to the New World brought it there too.

Around a year ago, someone from one mailing list I joined asked other members to write epitaph he would engrave on his tombstone after he died. I wrote one, and sent it to the mailing list. This in fact attracted one good friend of mine, a member of that mailing list too. He said, “People don’t need to engrave anything on my tombstone later because I will ask my body burned.”
As a Muslim, of course I never have an idea for such a thing. However, his comment made me think more deeply. One habit of Javanese people before Ramadhan month—a sacred month where people fast—is to visit their family members’ graveyard. People do it again after Idul Fitri comes. To do this habit, someone sometimes has to go to a quite far distance, let’s say from Jakarta to Semarang (around 500 km away). To me, it sounds impractical.

What is the point to visit a graveyard? If only to send pray to the deceased, people can do it from anywhere, no need to visit the graveyard, as if the deceased really dwelled there, so that he/she would directly see who come to visit. I suppose we believe that what is buried is only flesh and bones that will quickly rot while the ‘soul’ of the deceased will not dwell there.

I remember when I was in elementary school, my teacher said that it was necessary to visit graveyard so that people would always remember that they would die one day, so that they would behave in the world because later after they die, they’ve got to be responsible with everything they do. I also learn that sending pray to the deceased is more important than just visiting the graveyard bringing bouquet or offerings. And again, to send pray can be done from anywhere, right? no need to go to the graveyard?
Is it right those corruptors (or other criminals) don’t remember that one day they will die and they have to be responsible their crimes in the world in front of God? Is it right that those who regularly go to visit graveyards behave better because it means they always remember one day they will die?

My friend who said that he wanted his body to be burned must belong to the practical type so that he will not bother his offspring to engrave his tombstone that will cost much money, or to visit his graveyard (imagine if his graveyard is in Indonesia while his offspring live in another part of the globe).

Anyway, in studying literature, it is always interesting to learn about epitaph. By the way, around a year ago, a blog friend of mine from England said that people there no longer think of writing an epitaph to be engraved in tombstone (it has been a tradition there anyway), but they start to select what kind of song/music played in their burial.
PT56 17.07 161007