In the Womb of the Tarra Tree

Faisal Oddang

Translated by Linda Lingard, edited by Marjie Suanda

 Adhe, Penahitam Makassar

Adhe, Penahitam Makassar

In these graves within a tree, Mother Tarra, though so weak, has never refused to embrace us, her children. Here, within her body, we have nursed on her sap for many years. Drawing out our short lives. Slowly letting our bodies rot with time - becoming one with Mother's body, this tomb for babies who die in Toraja. Babies who have yet to grow teeth. Before we finally go to heaven.

A week ago, you died —who knows why. I saw your relatives hold up the eran on Mother’s body for them to climb. I guessed that you must come from an aristocratic line as your coffin was placed higher. Even though you, all of Mother’s children, and I will one day be in the same heaven.

Early in the morning, you stand at the doorway to my room, knocking upon the woven fibers of my door that fall away as they have not been replaced for years.

"May I come in?"

I nod, afraid that I might say the wrong thing and anger you. For a middle-class person like myself, there's nothing more humiliating than to say the wrong words to you.

"I'm sorry," you begin, "I have been here for a week but it still feels like I am a stranger."

"Mother’s other children and I apologize, but as you know, we are only middle-class, and some of us are even from the lowest class. We do not wish to be presumptuous with an esteemed person like yourself."

You start to cry, tears falling drop after drop. What's wrong with me, or you, Runduma? Yes, I know your name from Mother. After you were entombed in her body, Mother told me all about you, although of course it was rather vague. You carry much pain from the world?

"Out there, I was your superior. But it's different here..." you hesitate, your expression increasingly anxious. Is there something troubling you? You cry even harder with tears rapidly flowing.

“Lola Toding?”

I am shocked. You know my name? Of course, Mother must have told you. You sit very still. A look of hesitation upon your face.

"Tell me!" I say, certain that you have something to tell.

"Don't let anyone else know. You can keep a secret, can't you?"

I nod to convince you. You smile briefly and begin your tale.


The house seemed dark that night. It was noisy. Faces full of perspiration. People busy talking. The situation grew tense when a middle-aged man grabbed the collar of a young man who looked confused.

"The confused young man was my father." You interrupt your tale.

I nod, signaling you to continue your story.

“My father was silent,” you say. “He looked down wearily. His eyes were glassy as if he wanted to be angry but could not. The middle-aged man cried angrily, ‘He has wronged our customs. He has committed adultery.’"

He was your grandfather, Runduma? You nod.

Your father and mother were lovers. They were found together in the bushes behind your mother’s house before they were married. Fortunately, it was a relative of yours who found them so that the news was not spread to all corners of the village.

The morning is turning into afternoon. I know this from the white sap that no longer flows rapidly from Mother's body. You haven't finished your tale.

"I will continue tomorrow, Toding," you say.

"You promise?"

"Of course."

"Promise you won't call me Toding, that's a man's name, my father's name. Just Lola," I laugh.

You smile, you seem amused by my words.


August clouds gather in the Toraja sky. The wind sheds Mother's brownish hair. I sit at the edge of the room, looking as far out as I can. Soon, perhaps in a few days, Toraja will be very busy. I've heard that the family of Allo Dopang will be carrying out a funeral ceremony for their dead one who is still 'sick' in the traditional house. ‘Sick’ means the body has not been consecrated, although the person no longer breathes, that's our belief. I wish I could take you there. At the very least, we can relieve our longing for our families and relatives. Isn't it true that for us, Mother Tarra’s children, the smiles of our relatives is a little piece of heaven? Or do you wish to meet your parents? Come with me, Runduma, I am sure the event will be lively. Many buffaloes will be sacrificed, and pigs too.

"Toding," you call, breaking into my daydream.

I turn and glare at you.

"Oh, sorry, I mean Lola," you add quickly.

"What is it? Do you wish to continue your story?"

"Do you have time?"

"Go on.”

Your father, and your mother too no doubt, were from the upper class and their wedding in the traditional house had to be extravagant. It must be so. Otherwise, curses will follow. You said your death began there. Although it was not the main reason, it was your parents' extravagant wedding that caused your death before you had the chance to get to know the world. I didn’t get a chance either. Neither did any of Mother's other children. 

"Their marriage went smoothly, until I was born and my mother found out that my father was drowning in debt."

As a member of the aristocracy, it was compulsory for your father to give twelve adult buffaloes to marry your mother. So he began borrowing money right and left, surely with high interest rates. A year into their marriage, your father still had not settled his millions in debts. He often became angry. Beating and cursing your mother.

“When I was five months old, everything ended just like that." You sniff back tears, unable to continue your tale. Boys can break down too, I see. Without my realizing it, you have found your way into my embrace.

That night was your last night on earth. You breathed your last in the arms of your parents. You were cursed that night, Runduma. You bounced out of your baby sling after your father could no longer control his anger and pushed your mother till she fell. Your mother winced. Your head hit the floor hard. For a moment all was silent. Then a sense of gloom and anxiety fell over the space. Your father went mad. Incoherent. Your mother took your body into her arms.

"I was in pain that night and found it difficult to breathe," you say as you move closer into my embrace.

"You remember everything?" I ask, curious.

"Not everything, but I can still recall several events before my death although they are not clear," you explain.

Your father panicked, and your mother even more so. She lost her strength upon seeing her hands that held your head become red with blood. She ran with you in her arms to the front of the house, shouting for help.

"Nobody heard. I expect everyone was sound asleep," you say regretfully.

"So your death was only witnessed by your father and mother?"

"Not really," you reply. "Just before God took my spirit, I saw Tanta Mori, my father's younger sister, crying for me already stiff in my mother's arms."

You end your tale with your arms pressed tightly around my body. You hold me for a long time. So long that I feel a strange feeling coursing through me. Is this love? I hope not.

"I have no one," you say in between your sobs.

I touch your shoulder lightly. "You have us and Mother. Don't talk like that."

The strange feeling intensifies and finally wears me down. I love you, Runduma.


Morning comes along with a mist that covers the rock cliffs and thick roots that trail from the trees on the hills of Toraja. It's very cold in our house today. As I am suckling on Mother’s sap, all around our burial tree loud voices can be heard. Runduma, you come to me this morning with a look that holds many stories. Immediately you ask me to come back into my room and sit before me.

"Lola, do you know who is guiding the tourists down there?"

I shake my head, puzzled.

"Come here." You pull my arm, and together we raise the palm fibers that are the door to my room. "There, there..."

I spy crowds of people having their photographs taken in front of Mother.

"The one wearing glasses?"


"The one in brown clothes?"

"That's my father," you reply wearily. You look so sad today, Runduma, although by now you needn’t carry so much longing in your heart.   

We are quiet for a long time. Observing the visitors' antics and their laughter makes us both melancholic.

"My father works as a guide during tourist months, on normal days he works in the fields."

"Look, he knows a lot about Mother." I stare at your father, as he explains to the tourists about this burial tree.

"He has worked as a guide since before he got married."

"No wonder."


Dawn has not broken. Yet you are awoken by Mother, the whole tree is in an uproar. Mother is angry. Her children are frightened. Mother's hairs are falling. Withering one by one. Her sap flows out rapidly becoming tears.

"Where are you, Lola?"

Mother's quivering voice calls for me, as loud as a drum being beaten. I shiver to hear it. But I cannot respond.

"Where are you, Lola?" you ask, sobbing, Runduma. "Why did you go away? I love you." Your voice sends strange feelings coursing through me again. You love me, too, Runduma?

Mother is still angry. Her body almost collapses, she is so resentful. She has lost one of her children. Last night, while everyone including Mother was sound asleep, your father, Runduma, stole my corpse that was only a skeleton. He sold it for several million rupiah to the tourists he was with the other day. I screamed as loudly as I could, but you remained in my room that is now empty. From hereon, my spirit hangs in limbo between heaven and our burial tree. Because my body is no longer one with Mother. I love you, Runduma. I believe you do not hear me.



Tarra: a big tree with a diameter of up to three meters that is used to bury babies in Toraja.

Eran: in Torajan mythology, the first human was given a special ladder to heaven to meet Puang Matua (God), also known as eran to langi, or the ladder of the heavenly man. Its shape is like a piece of bamboo that has holes in it with sticks inserted into it.


© Faisal Oddang. Translation © Linda Tan Lingard.


Faisal Oddang


Di passiliran ini, kendati begitu ringkih, tubuh Indo tidak pernah menolak memeluk anak-anaknya. Di sini, di dalam tubuhnya—bertahun-tahun kami menyusu getah. Menghela usia yang tak lama. Perlahan membiarkan tubuh kami lumat oleh waktu—menyatu dengan tubuh Indo. Lalu kami akan berganti menjadi ibu—makam bagi bayi-bayi yang meninggal di Toraja. Bayi yang belum tumbuh giginya. Sebelum akhirnya kami ke surga.

Beberapa hari yang lalu, kau meninggal—entah sebab apa. Kulihat kerabatmu menegakkan eran di tubuh Indo untuk mereka panjati. Sudah kuduga, kau keturunan tokapua, makammu harus diletakkan di tempat tinggi. Padahal kau, aku, dan anak-anak Indo yang lain kelak akan berada di surga yang sama.

Pagi-pagi sekali, kau berdiri di ambang bilik—mengetuk pintu ijukku yang rontok sebab bertahun-tahun tak diganti.

“Boleh masuk?”

Aku mengangguk, takut salah bicara dan kau akan murka. Bagi tomakaka sepertiku, tak ada yang lebih hina dari salah bertutur kepadamu.

"Maaf,” bukamu, “sudah seminggu saya di sini, tapi saya sepertinya masih sangat asing.”

“Saya dan anak-anak Indo yang lain juga minta maaf, kau tahulah kami ini hanya tomakaka, bahkan ada tobuda, tak seberapa nyali kami untuk melancangi kaum junjungan sepertimu.”

Air matamu jatuh, luruh satu demi satu. Apa yang salah dariku, atau darimu, Runduma? Ya, kutahu namamu dari Indo. Malam setelah kau bermakam di tubuhnya, Indo menerakan segala perihal kau, mesti tentu saja samar-samar. Kau membawa banyak luka dari dunia?

“Di dunia, saya junjunganmu. Tapi di sini beda...” kau menggantung, wajahmu kian rusuh, adakah yang kisruh di pikiranmu? Kemudian, tangisanmu bertambah keras, bertambah deras buyar air matamu. “Lola Toding?”

Aku tergagau. Kau tahu namaku? Ah ya, pasti Indo yang memberi tahu. Kau duduk geming—wajahmu tampak ragu.

“Ceritalah!” Aku yakin kau ingin menerakan sesuatu.

“Jangan sampai yang lain tahu, kau bisa menjaga rahasia, kan?”

Aku mengangguk menyakinkanmu. Kau menimpalkan senyuman lantas memulai kisahmu, dengan dada yang kelihatan sesak. Koyak.


Tongkonan tampak gegap malam itu. Suara-suara riuh. Wajah-wajah penuh peluh. Orang-orang berlibat bicara. Sesaat situasi menegang ketika seorang lelaki paruh baya mencengkeram leher baju pemuda yang wajahnya kusut.

“Pemuda kusut itu ambe-ku.” Kausela ceritamu sendiri.

Aku mengangguk, memberimu isyarat melanjutkan cerita.

Ambemu diam dalam simpuhnya. Ia tertunduk lesu. Matanya berkaca-kaca seperti hendak marah namun tak sanggup. Lelaki paruh baya itu menggeram, “Dia sudah menyalahi pemali mappangngan buni. Ia berzinah.”

Dia kakekmu, Runduma? Kau mengangguk.

Ambe dan indomu pacaran. Mereka kedapatan saling tindih di semak belakang tongkonan sebelum resmi menikah. Untung yang menemukan mereka kerabatmu juga, sehingga tak ia sebar kabarnya ke penjuru kampung.

Pagi mulai beranjak menjejak siang. Kutahu itu dari getah putih yang mulai tak deras mengucur dari tubuh Indo. Ceritamu belum selesai.

“Besok saya lanjutkan, Toding,” cetusmu.

“Kau janji?”

“Pasti saya cerita.”

"Janji jangan panggil Toding, itu nama lelaki, nama ayahku. Lola saja,” gelakku.

Kau tersenyum, tampak geli mendengarku.


Awan Agustus meriung di langit Toraja. Derau angin merontokkan rambut-rambut Indo yang kecokelatan. Aku duduk di ambang bilik, melempar tatap sejauh mungkin. Sebentar lagi, mungkin jelang beberapa hari, Toraja akan riuh. Kudengar kabar, keluarga Allo Dopang akan mengadakan rambu solo untuk mayat tanggungannya yang masih 'sakit' dalam tongkonan. 'Sakit' berarti tubuhnya belum diupacarakan, kendati sudah tak bernafas, begitulah kami percaya. Ingin rasanya aku mengajakmu ke sana. Paling tidak, di upacara itu kita akan melepas rindu pada sanak kerabat. Bukankah, bagi kita anak-anak Indo, surga kecil adalah senyuman kerabat? Atau kau ingin bertemu orangtuamu? Ikutlah denganku, Runduma, aku yakin acaranya pasti meriah. Akan ada puluhan kerbau yang dipotong, babi juga pasti banyak.

“Toding,” tegurmu melamurkan lamunku.

Aku berbalik badan. Menatapmu tajam.

“Eh, maaf, maksud saya Lola,” tambahmu lekas.

"Ada apa? Mau melanjutkan yang tak sampai waktu itu?”

“Punya waktu?”

“Ayo!” timpalku.

Ambemu tokapua, sama seperti indomu, tak ayal, rampanan kapa harus mewah di tongkonan mereka. Tak boleh tidak. Kalau lancang menghindar, tulah akan menimpa. Katamu, kematianmu berawal dari sana. Kendatipun bukan pokok perkara, pernikahan mewah orangtuamu yang membuatmu mati sebelum sempat mengecapi dunia lebih lama. Sama sepertiku yang juga tak sempat. Sama seperti anak-anak Indo yang lain.

“Pernikahan mereka lancar, hingga saya lahir dan terbongkarlah rahasia bahwa Ambe menanggung borok hutang." Sebagai kaum bangsawan, ambemu wajib membayar dengan dua belas kerbau dewasa untuk menyunting indomu. Jadilah ia memungut uang di kiri-kanan, tentu dengan bunga yang tinggi. Setelah setahun pernikahan mereka, utang ratusan juta itu belum juga dapat ambemu lunasi. Ia jadi sering marah. Memukuli dan mengumpati indomu.

"Saat saya berusia lima bulan, semuanya berakhir begitu saja.” Kau tersedu. Tidak dapat melanjutkan kalimatmu. Laki-laki dapat koyak juga, batinku. Tak sadar, kini kau telah merasuk dalam pelukanku.

Malam itu, malam terakhirmu di dunia. Kau mengembuskan napas penghabisan di tangan kedua orangtuamu. Kau sial malam itu, Runduma. Dari gendongan indomu kau terpental setelah ambemu tak lagi meredam amarahnya sehingga ia mendorong indomu hingga tersungkur. Indomu meringis. Kepalamu membentur keras lantai tongkonan. Sesaat hening. Kemudian suasana keruh. Rusuh. Ambemu kalap. Gelagapan. Indomu merasukkan tubuhmu ke gendongannya.

“Saya merasa berat bernafas malam itu. Lalu tersengal-sengal,” katamu, dan kau semakin rapat dalam pelukanku.

“Kau ingat semuanya?” tanyaku penasaran.

“Tidak semua, tapi beberapa kejadian menjelang kematianku masih kuingat meski agak samar,” jelasmu.

Ambemu panik. Indomu jangan ditanya lagi. Ia kehilangan daya ketika melihat tangannya yang menadah kepalamu memerah darah. Di dalam gendongannya kau dibawa lari ke muka tongkonan, ia berteriak minta tolong.

“Tidak ada yang mendengar. Kuduga semua telah terlelap.” Kau menukas kisahmu dengan pernyataan yang seakan-akan kausesali.

“Jadi kematianmu hanya disaksikan ambe serta indomu?”

“Tidak juga,” jawabmu. “Saat Puang Matua membawa arwahku, masih sempat kulihat Tanta Mori, adik perempuan ambeku, menangisiku yang telah kaku di gendongan indoku.”

Kau menutup ceritamu dengan mengatupkan rapat lenganmu ke tubuhku. Kau memelukku lama. Lama sekali hingga kurasakan perasaan aneh terus menjalariku. Apakah ini cinta? Semoga tidak.

“Saya tak punya siapa-siapa,” selamu mengantarai isakanmu sendiri.

Kutepuk halus pundakmu, “Ada kami dan Indo. Jangan bilang begitu.”

Perasaan aneh itu bertambah hebat dan akhirnya benar-benar merisakku. Aku mencintaimu, Runduma.


Pagi turun bersama kabut yang menutupi tebing-tebing batu dan kekar akar-akar yang menjulangkan pohon-pohon di bukit Toraja. Rumah kita dingin sekali pagi ini. Aku tengah menyusu. Riuh suara-suara terdengar di halaman passiliran. Runduma, kau datang padaku pagi itu dengan wajah yang menyimpan banyak cerita. Kau lantas mengajakku masuk bilik dan kita duduk berhadapan.

“Lola, kau tahu siapa yang memandu turis-turis itu?”

Aku menggeleng. Bingung.

“Sini, sini.” Kautarik tanganku, lalu bersama kita singkap ijuk yang menjadi pintu bilikku. “Itu, tuh...”

Aku menelisik kerumunan orang yang sibuk berfoto di depan Indo. “Yang pakai kacamata?”

“Bukan,” tukasmu

“Yang berbaju cokelat itu?”

“Itu ambeku,” kau lesu mengatakannya. Wajahmu tampak begitu kisruh, Runduma.

Kau tampak sedih hari ini. Padahal seharusnya rindumu terobati dan kau tak usah menampung begitu banyak muram di dadamu. Lama sekali kita berdiam di ambang bilik menyaksikan pongah pengunjung dan tawa mereka yang kerap memilukan kita.

“Ambe menyambi pemandu saat bulan-bulan wisata, pada hari-hari biasa ia menggarap sawah.”

“Lihat, diatahu banyak tentang Indo.” Kuarahkan pandangan ke ambemu. Ia tengah menjelaskan kepada turis-turis itu tentang passiliran ini.

"Ia sudah bekerja sebagai pemandu sejak lajang.”



Pagi belum datang. Namun, kau dibangunkan oleh Indo, passiliran gempar. Indo murka. Anak-anaknya ketakutan. Rambut-rambut Indo berguguran. Meranggas satu-satu. Getahnya mengucur deras menjadi air mata.

“Kau di mana, Lola?”

Suara Indo bergetar memanggilku. Lantang seperti nekara ditabuh. Aku bergidik mendengarnya. Tetapi tak bisa menyahut.

“Di mana kau, Lola?” tanyamu dalam isakan. “Mengapa kau pergi? Saya mencintaimu.” Suaramu membuat debaran aneh itu kian menjalariku. Kau mencintaiku juga, Runduma?

Indo masih murka. Hampir tumbang tubuhnya lantaran tak dapat memendam dendam. Ia kehilangan anaknya. Semalam, ketika semua orang tertidur, dan begitu pula Indo, ambemu, Runduma, menggondol mayatku yang hanya tulang berbalut belulang. Ia menjualnya seharga ratusan juta rupiah kepada turis yang kemarin ia temani. Sekeras mungkin kuteriaki kau yang bersimpuh di bilikku yang kini kosong. Dari sini, antara surga dan passiliran, arwahku tergantung tak jelas. Sebab tubuhku tak lagi menyatu dengan Indo. Aku mencintaimu, Runduma. Kuyakin kau tak mendengarnya.



  1. Tarra: pohon besar berdiameter hingga tiga meter yang dijadikan tempat mengubur bayi di Toraja
  2. Passiliran: kuburan bayi di Toraja, dibuat di pohon tarra
  3. Indo: ibu
  4. Eran: dalam mitologi Toraja, manusia pertama dihadiahi tangga khusus untuk memanjat ke langit bertemu Tuhan, namanya eran to langi, atau tangga orang langit, bentuknya kurang lebih bambu betung yang dilubangi kemudian dimasukkan kayu ke dalamnya
  5. Tokapua: golongan bangsawan, kasta tertinggi
  6. Tomakaka: kasta menengah
  7. Tobuda: kasta terendah
  8. Tongkonan: rumah adat Toraja
  9. Ambe: ayah
  10. Pemali mapangngan buni: larangan berzinah
  11. Rambu solo: perayaan kematian di Toraja
  12. Rampanan Kapa: pesta pernikahan
  13. Puang Matua: Tuhan


© Faisal Oddang.

FAISAL ODDANG was born in Wajo, South Sulawesi, 1994. He won ASEAN Young Writers Award in 2014. His novel is Puya ke Puya (KPG, 2015). "Di Tubuh Tarra, di Dalam Pohon" was selected as Best Kompas Short Story 2014. Faisal was recently recognized by Tempo magazine as their Prose Writer of the Year 2015.

LINDA TAN LINGARD is managing partner of the YGL (Yusof Gajah Lingard) Literary Agency. Prior to that she worked in the PR and publishing industry in various roles. This included one-year in Jakarta as a translator of economics papers. In 2013, she attended the literary translation workshop organised by InterSastra, and now she hopes to do more translation from Indonesian to English.