Informant Background: The informant is a student in Los Angeles. His family is originally from Indonesia. His parents moved to the United States and they now live in New Orleans. He speaks only English but he said his family still practice many Indonesian traditions especially folk-beliefs. He travels back once in a while to Indonesia to visit his relatives.
This is a story of a famous Indonesian ghost called Bot-Chon. In Indonesia when someone die you would wrap them with cloth. Before the burial the cloth is tied around the body. Once in the grave the body is covered with planks of woods. Soil is then put into the cloth to symbolizing the body going back into the earth, or like the body going back nature. Before the body is buried the cloth you are supposed to untie the cloth so the cloth kind of sit loose in the grave so the spirit can flow out after the burial. The ghost is then from people who forgot to untie the ghost…you know it’s like their spirit is trapped inside the cloth…So the ghost will haunt the family and friend until the cloth can be untied. It is kind of funny because the cloth is tied around the body so this ghost just kind of hop around like a statue.
The informant learned about this tradition when he visits his family back in Indonesia. The untying of the cloth also is a way family and relatives can have the final moment of closure with the deceased. To not untie the cloth represents how the living family did not have a proper farewell moment. The ghost haunts as a way to seek their last goodbyes. To get rid of the ghost is to go back to the original burial site and untie the cloth to release the spirit.
I agree that the appearance of the spirit has a humorous quality. Since the body is wrapped in cloth the spirit would appear almost as a mummy who could not walk. I think this ghost story shows the importance of funeral as a life event. Funeral is one of the biggest life event that is ritualized and celebrated. In this case the mistake or neglect at the funeral turns the person into a ghost, similar to a lot of ghost stories where ghosts are lingering spirits or souls that did not get proper burial tradition after death. Ghost in many culture are result of a bad funeral; ones that neglect the traditions or did not follow the rules. This case is the same how the ghost is the spirit asking to be released.
The burial and putting soil into the cloth is similar to Western funeral traditions where the family would through dirt on top of the coffin before the actual burial. It is only a symbolic gesture of the last goodbye and putting the body back to nature. Unlike western traditions this tradition from the informant does not put the body in the coffin. So the body will decompose with the soil, the wood planks, and the clothes, all into the ground.