Placenta Wood in Bayunggede, Kintamani, Bangli in Bali, Indonesia
Bayunggede is a traditional village in Bali called "Desa Bali Mula". The term Bali Aga (Mountain Balinese) is regarded as an insult with an additional meaning of "the mountain people that are fools"; therefore, they prefer the term Bali Mula (lit Original Balinese) instead.(1) In Bali you may find about 10 (maybe more) ancient villages, e.g. Sidatapa, Cempaga, Tigawasa, Pedawa, Julah, Sembiran, Trunyan, Tenganan, Penglipuran Village etc. The Balinese culture here is very strong and different to other villages. Most of this villages practice different Hinduismus than the rest of the island.
Hindus in Bali usually bury a baby's placenta under a tree in the family garden. But in the village of Bayunggede, there is another custom. Next to the village cemetery is a "Setra Ari-Ari" - a placenta cemetery. "Ari Ari" is the Indonesian equivalent for afterbirth or placenta, and the cemetery or "setra" used for this cultural tradition is called "Setra Ari Ari." In this village, placentas are hung from the branches of bukak trees. Among other meanings, this also symbolizes that any villager who leaves the village will always return to it. The local belief is also that hanging the placenta of a newborn in the cemetery gives the child magical protection from illness and other misfortune.
The people of Bayunggede believe that the sap and fruit of the bukak tree can absorb the smell of decomposing organs, and this is a unique feature of this village. The bukak tree was so named because when the fruit was torn, it opened and divided into two parts. The bukak tree also symbolized the female life force, which was believed to be the baby's mother who would magically nourish it. From this symbolization, the Bukak tree was interpreted as a person who would protect the baby's siblings (placenta) from various types of magical disturbances.
No one knows exactly when this tradition began. It is believed that this tradition has existed for thousands of years. Bayunggede society believed that this tradition had something to do with the origin of Bayunggede village. A legend says that the first man in Bayunggede was born from Tued (the wood that was felled and whose base was left). He was revived by Tirta Kamandalu, the white monkey who was the son of Bhatara Bayu. Therefore, the hanging of the placenta on the tree can be a manifestation of the Catur Sanak ideology, it must return to its origin: the wood. (2)
This story is based on oral transmission and did not pass into any written sources. However, if a violation is proven, the family must pay 200 pieces of Uang Kepeng (traditional Balinese coin) and perform a Mesayut ceremony to cleanse their yard, which can also be very costly.
This tradition of hanging the placenta is based on a somewhat different understanding of placenta than is common among Balinese. According to the Seriman, leader of Bayunggede village, the placenta of a newborn baby, if placed in the courtyard of the house, would cause dirt and was full of bad influences that would affect the farm and the family. (2) The postpartum tradition in Bali is to bury the placenta, an organ that some Hindus consider "alive," almost like a twin sibling of the newborn. It is protected after burial and sealed against demons and bad forces by attached protection - usually in the form of a basket. Here both beliefs or conceptions of the placenta differ somewhat from each other. Whereas also in Bayunggede it is also said that the placenta is a twin of the baby. Possibly here both Überlieferugnen went into each other or it is not distinguished with not involved people.
What is known about the course of this ritual? The placenta is first washed with clean fresh water as best as possible. The coconut shell divided into two and cleaned serves as a container. On the top of the shell, Ongkara (Hindu script) was written. One source (2) says that the placenta is also attached objects that should protect the baby and give it higher qualities, such as cracks of mats, pencils, torn paper, roses, pepper / coriander, betel lime, turmeric, lime and eggplant / eggplant spines. The function was that the baby remained fragrant, warm and awake and grew up to be an intelligent person in the future. However, this custom is very common among balinessen who bury the placenta on their property. I myself could not find during my visit in bayunggede that this would also be practiced there.
The coconut shell is closed with the placenta inside and then tied together with a bamboo rope with salang tabu knot. The interface of the coconut shell is tightly connected with betel lime. The placenta must be taken to the cemetery in the early morning hours or at sunset. The company is prohibited from hanging the placenta when the sun is still shining. The process of hanging the placenta can be done after the baby is born, and the father of the baby can immediately hang the placenta in Setra Ari-Ari, then take paku leaves (pakis) and put them in front of the courtyard as a sign that the family got an addition and as a sign of the cuntaka of the family during (first baby: 42 days, second baby and so on: 12 days).
The baby's father carries the placenta to the cemetery. Also in the other Hindi ritual in Bali, the father takes care of the placenta, the ceremony and also the protection of the placenta in the days after. If the father of the baby is absent, another male family member represents him. The Man also had to wear traditional costumes and equip themselves with sickles, according to a flyover. In the past, the forest of Bali was huge. So the men who had to leave the cemetery also had to cut the bushes and branches of the bukak tree with the sickle to hang the placenta. Whether this connection corresponds to the truth is difficult to understand.
It is also said that the man who brought the placenta to the cemetery was not allowed to meet anyone on the way. Not to talk, not to look around and not to laugh. It was believed that the baby could grow badly and later grow into a person who does not focus on goals and other bad things.
After hanging the placenta on the way home was left to bring gift. For a boy, the father collected firewood in the cemetery grounds, and then edible plants for a girl.
These items were considered a symbol of strength and intelligence in coping with the future life.
This ritual "Ari-Ari Mengantung" or "Hanging Placenta" was recently recognized by the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture by being included in the Republic's Catalog of Intangible Cultural Heritage (WBTB) in October 2020. With the recognition of the Hanging Placenta Cemetery as an Intangible Cultural Heritage Site, the Indonesian government is asking for the support and commitment of the surrounding communities to preserve and protect this sacred tradition.
It is definitely worts of it to visit Bayunggede, 30 kilometers from Denpasar City, about 1.5 hours drive through Payangan Village, Gianyar. This location is also quite close to Penelokan Kintamani. I hope with the short video I could give you a little impression of this place.
James Danandjaja (1989). Kebudayaan petani desa Trunyan di Bali: lukisan analitis yang menghubungkan praktek pengasuhan anak orang Trunyan dengan latar belakang etnografisnya. Penerbit Universitas Indonesia. p. 1. ISBN 97-945-6034-0.
Robin Lim: Placenta - The Forgotten Chakra