When we think of Bali, a palm tree paradise springs to mind. But Trunyan Village - AKA Skull Island - shows a very different side to the island and its mystical traditions...
Do you remember the scene in Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong movie, when Naomi Watts, Jack Black, and Adrien Brody first arrived on the shores of Skull Island? Well, if you do and you’re planning to visit Bali, then get ready for a very similar experience at Trunyun Village…
As you may know, Bali is famous for its exotic beaches, arak-infused nightlife, and in the last decade, spiritual journeys in Ubud all thanks to Julia Roberts. However, there’s one particular village and its interesting traditions that might not sound so familiar. We’re talking about Trunyan.
Trunyan is best known in Bali for its bizarre yet chilling funeral tradition. Similar to Skull Island in King Kong, when you visit this village you’ll find real skulls and human remains on the streets. These bodies lie untouched on the ground without any funeral or cremation, which is the usual Balinese Hindu tradition. Now, if your first thought is to get the heck outta the village and to never come back, then this sort of “tourist attraction” might not be for you. But, if you’re interested in a unique and unusual adventure, then a visit to Trunyan Village might be right up your alley…
The legend and history of Trunyan Village
The story of the famous Trunyan Village begins hundreds of years ago on the island of Java. The King of Solo from the Kingdom of Surakarta (now a city in Java) had four children: one daughter and three sons. One day, the princess and the princes smelt an overwhelmingly beautiful scent. It was so hypnotic that they decided to find the source of this scent: it led them to Bali. However, only the eldest prince arrived at the source of the scent, which was coming from a tree in the centre of a village near Bali’s Lake Batur. This village is now called Trunyan.
The funeral tradition in Trunyan Village
For most Balinese Hindus, cremations or burials are the common way to honour the dead. However, in Trunyan Village, the funeral tradition is slightly different, to say the least. The dead are not buried or cremated as is generally the case in other areas of Bali, but rather, the villagers of Trunyan place their loved ones’ bodies on the ground, cover them with cloth, and arrange bamboo around them to form a prism, called “ancak sanji”. This tradition is called “Mepasah”.
During Mepasah, the bodies are purified with rainwater, and later, the bodies are placed on the ground, and wrapped in white cloth – except for the face. Although the bodies remain above ground, they surprisingly do not smell. The corpses are placed between the tree of Taru Menyan, which means ‘fragrant tree’. Presumably, the aroma that comes from the tree neutralises any ‘unwanted smells’.
At any one time, there can only be a maximum of 11 bodies placed beneath the Taru Menyan tree. When there are new bodies, then the body that has been there the longest is moved into an open area, not covered by “ancak saji” but put together with other bodies under rocks or under a tree. Although the Mepasah tradition belongs uniquely to the Trunyan people, not all Trunyan bodies are treated this way. Mepasah can only be carried out for people who are – at the time of death – married, or, young children without milk teeth. Furthermore, the deaths must have occurred due to natural causes and must have all body parts intact without injuries. If these criteria are not met, the body will be buried in the normal way.
As such, there are tree types of “sema” (cemetery) in Trunyan, distinguished by the age of the person, completeness of their body parts, and the way in which they are buried. The first burial area is called “Sema Wayah”, which is considered to be the most sacred and is reserved for those who are buried in the Mepasah way. The second is “Sema Muda” – the cemetery for children or infants who still have their milk teeth. The third is “Sema Bantas”, which is intended for people who have died of unnatural causes – such as accidents – and for those who have lost their lives with incomplete body parts.
How to get to Trunyan Village
If you’re still interested in visiting Trunyan Village despite its eery traditions, here’s how you get there. Trunyan is located on the eastern shore of Lake Batur, a caldera lake in central Bali. To get to Trunyan, first you need to head inland to Kintamani – approximately a two-hour drive from the main tourist hubs of Canggu or Seminyak. Once in Kintamani, you’ll then need to take a boat from the local dock in the village of Songan, which is on Lake Batur’s more accessible western side. Top tip: visit Trunyan with a tour guide rather than simply booking a return boat trip, as this way you’ll gain insight into the history and culture, instead of simply transport alone.
Ready to visit Bali’s mystical Trunyan Village? Don’t forget to tag us on Instagram, and get ready for a chilling adventure!