Isle of the Dead: A Study of Trunyan Cemetery (Bali)

Isle of the Dead: A Study of Trunyan Cemetery (Bali)

Bintang Handayani (President University, Indonesia) and Maximiliano Emanuel Korstanje (University of Palermo, Argentina)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2927-9.ch017


This essay aims to explain the phenomenon and effect on tourism of the Balinese cemetery in the village of Trunyan, where the dead are not buried. It is a narrative enquiry combined with critical theory largely grounded in the scholarship of dark tourism and communication theory, coupled with content analysis of the online community's reviews from the TripAdvisor website. The study indicates that (1) connectedness to death suggests the existence of spirituality needed by people, at the same time indicating understanding of mortality; (2) social connections developed as a result of visiting Trunyan cemetery not only bring self-awareness and awareness of others, revolving around intrapersonal communication about spirituality and interpersonal communication among members of the online community, but also illustrate the development of dark tourism and conceptualise the role of tourists in building authentic experience as the essence of a death site's brand image.
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The expression “Lonely in a crowd” indicates how the quality of relationships matters, and signifies a much deeper existence from postmodern perspectives where people seek for feelings shared by others. This aspect represents the roots of reciprocity as it was studied by ethnographers in non-western cultures (Malinowski, 1926). In this context, feeling of this calibre are driven by the so called dark tourism sites (Biran, Poria, & Oren, 2011; Stone & Sharpley, 2008). Although gaining in popularity, dark sites wake up a profound ethical discussion in public opinion (Tzanelli 2016). While a family of theories understand that dark sites express an emotional arousal which links community with pastime, addressing some of the existential questions of human existence (Lennon & Foley 2000; Raine 2013, Biran & Hyde, 2013; Cohen 2011; Podoshen 2013; Stone 2011); others claim beyond the quest for death, underlies a sentiment of morbid voyeurism which is politically manipulated to perpetuate the legitimacy of elite, even in contexts of disasters and trauma (Bowman & Pezzullo, 2009; Hartmann 2014; Tzanelli 2016; Korstanje 2016). Likely, the Trunyan cemetery in Bali offers a fertile ground to overcome the limitations dark tourism literature shows. Despite this cemetery attracts both types of segments, overseas and domestic tourists, it is difficult to frame this space into the model of Seaton and Lennon (2004). As P. Stone (2006) puts it, dark tourism takes a wider spectrum which oscillates from battlefronts memorials which draws much attention from media, to cemeteries, where any intrusion is seen as a clear violation to private life. In this respect, B. Heidelberg (2015) dissects the case of Amityville US to understand many factors are involved at time of adopting dark tourism as the first option. Many communities, even, are far from the needs of reminding the event, and opted to silence it in the dust of oblivion. Korstanje has gathered substantial evidence during his fieldwork in Cromañón, Buenos Aires (Argentina) to confirm some communities see in tourism as an activity that very well may corrupt their memory of deads (Korstanje 2015), while in other cases, dark sites include the colloquially named perilous places, houses of horror, fields of fatality, tours of torment, and themed Thanatos, are theoretically on the dark tourism spectrum (Sharpley & Stone, 2009; Stone, 2006; Bowman & Pezzullo, 2009). Death tourism, which is defined as activities visiting unique and macabre sites such as cemeteries, appears not only to encourage human contemplation on death of the self (Stone, 2012; Korstanje and George, 2015), but also to revolve around how the death sites (those visited by tourists) serve as a distraction from one’s own mortality (Korstanje & George, 2015). Coupled with the conversation on social media (Sigala, Christou & Gretzel, 2012; Nikiforova, 2013) from a postmodern perspective, i.e. the phenomenon of an online community generating e-comments and e-word of mouth (e-WOM) (e.g. see Gretzel & Yoo, 2008; Yoo & Gretzel, 2008, 2010, 2011; Xiang and Gretzel, 2010),this phenomenon of death sites in particular and the surprisingly popular dark tourism in general, leads to question whether it is tourist-demand or attraction-driven (Stone, 2006; Wilkinson, 2010).

Key Terms in this Chapter

TripAdvisor: A global platform where clients and travellers left their experiences and hopes respecting to countless destinations and nations. It offers not only a valid guide for tourists before travelling abroad but also situates as a forum of dialogue that transcends the borders of cultures.

Holocaust Tourism: A widely used term which alludes to the curiosity of some visitors for spaces of genocide, slaughters, or mass-assassination perpetrated against a vulnerable and disarmed population.

Death Consumption: Consists in a postmodern tendency to consume spaces where disasters or catastrophes have happened. The main orientation of death consumption rests on the needs of grasping or figuring the own life through the others’ death.

Dark Tourism: Signals to a new trend in touring and travels that select sites of mass disaster or death as chief tourist destination.

Smart Tourism: An innovative development to forge smart destinations. This helps consumers to time-maximization process in the quest and interpretation of global information. Smart tourism is vital for consumers to reach rational choices or optimizing results in the decision making process.

Trunyan Cemetery: Geographically in the zone of Terunyan, which is a Balinese village situated on the eastern of Lake Batur.

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