Bizarre Thailand: Unclaimed

An angel like girl, dressed all in white carries pack of toothbrushes on Sunday morning. She walks slowly, smiles all around and seems not to be bothered by music so loud that one can’t hear his own thoughts. She is on her way to the Mang Teung Sua Jung Cemetery in Chonburi province – today members of a local Thai Chinese community will exhume unclaimed bodies. Toothbrushes will be used to clean the dirt from bones.

One of the first books I read after arriving to Thailand over two years ago was Bizarre Thailand – a nice collection of strange tales from the “land of smiles”. It was a nice introduction to what I could expect here in Thailand but I thought – I’ve seen enough elsewhere, all these bizarre things in other countries so nothing can surprise me.

Well, baby – this is Thailand and things easily go well beyond expectations. Today, unclaimed dead bodies are taken out of graves in the corner of a massive cemetery in Choburi province. It is a Thai Chinese ritual that has been going on for decades since diseases like malaria killed many people 90 years ago in this province. The legend is saying that officials began haphazardly digging up corpses so the city could build an airport and stopped only when they were haunted by ghosts. Since then, residents have felt it was necessary to leave the land untouched and to honour those who have died without loved ones.

Every ten years since then, hundreds of people wearing white – a customary colour for funerals and visiting temples – go to the cemetery, open the graves, dig and clean the unclaimed bodies to offer them a proper burial. Later in the year, remains of the dead with no friends or relatives will be cremated, ashes spread on the sea to make room at the burial ground for more unclaimed bodies in the coming years.

Collecting karma is big in Thailand and this ritual will help to do so, people at the cemetery believe. Also, dead bodies will not be able to move on and have another good life if they don’t have a proper funeral and cremation. So, despite the fear and heat and dirt – hundreds of people took care of dead and their souls in another bizarre event in the amazing Thailand.

For more pictures from this rare ritual please click here.

  1. Flowers and Bones

    “….shiny happy people…” REM used to sing long ago.
    Yellow and white. Flowers and bones, and a sense of feast.
    All together , crouched in circle on the ground brushing carefully each piece. Small patient hands close to other hands. One woman explodes in joy.
    Yellow and white. No pain, no gloom; even the skull, he laughs.
    . Giving them decent burial, exorcizing fear. Yellow and white, and closeness beats death.

    Ancient traditional song from Sicily said: “….I saw a skull upon a cannon, and was talking to me. He told me …”I was dead without a touch of bell…” I told him, this life is all made of sorrow…
    But I’ m going to keep on trying…..keep on trying.”

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