Sisterhood: Video of trans women performing a dance for their late friend in a Balinese funeral ritual goes viral (and we’re here for it)

Several trans women in Buleleng performed a dance during their late’s friend funeral ritual (locally known as ngaben) on April 18, 2022. Photo: Obtained.
Several trans women in Buleleng performed a dance during their late’s friend funeral ritual (locally known as ngaben) on April 18, 2022. Photo: Obtained.

Tika Inces Widuri, a Balinese trans woman based in Seririt, Buleleng, passed away last week at the age of 27 after being hospitalized for five days due to gastrointestinal infections. Before she died, Tika expressed her wish that her friends could perform the sacred dance segment of her ngaben (Balinese funeral ceremony).

Her friends happily obliged and the video went viral recently after it was uploaded on TikTok. The caption, written in Balinese, means: “Becoming one with God Almighty. Have a safe journey, friend. Hopefully you are in a better place in the afterlife.”

Considering how homophobic and transphobic Indonesia has become in the past few years (remember when Indonesian netizens attacked that lovely gay couple from Thailand?), the 19-second video represents a ray of hope for those wishing for more tolerance when it comes to society’s attitude toward gender minorities. 

Tika was part of the Singaraja Gay and Trans Women community (locally abbreviated as Wargas), which helps its members express themselves through artistic expression, including dance.

Wargas’ de facto leader Sisca D. Panggabean, affectionately called Mami Sisca (think Blanca Evangelista from Pose), said that the group was hesitant at first whether the locals would accept such a request.

“For Tika, dancing was her passion. Before her passing, she asked her friends [including fellow trans women] to perform the dance as her body is carried from the funeral home to her final resting place,” Mami Sisca told Coconuts, adding that while she is aware of the many discriminations the LGBTQIA+ Indonesians (particularly trans women) regularly face, honoring Tika’s last wish was crucial.

“I paid a visit to the local leaders and community members. I told them that this is what she wanted but we want to make sure to get a green light. What if we already put our makeup on and don dresses only to meet backlash?” the 49-year-old trans woman added.

Thankfully, the locals agreed with Tika’s last request and encouraged Sisca and her colleagues to carry out the plan. The ngaben ceremony took place on Monday and the video of the dance has gone viral since. 

Sisca explained that the dance that the trans women performed was called joged and it was more of a form of entertainment rather than a solemn ritual. However, she said that it helped bring cheer to Tika’s family, who were grieving her passing.

“We didn’t expect the video to go viral. Really, we just wanted to honor her last wish,” said Mami Sisca.

Trans women in Indonesia are the most vulnerable group among the country’s LGBTQIA+ community. Many of them are unable to finish school after being shunned as kids, and, consequently, have little in the way of job opportunities as adults. Many trans women end up working as street buskers or prostitutes. 

Tika, according to Sisca, was one trans woman who was able to bring home the bacon for her family as a professional dancer. However, when COVID-19 hit in 2020, Tika, just like many trans women, struggled to get food on her family’s table.

“Tika was a hard worker and was the family’s breadwinner. As a dancer, perhaps she felt the need to be on a hardcore diet to maintain her figure and performance to the point that she got a gastric infection. She was sick in the past year and, due to COVID-19 pandemic, she did not get many jobs. [I guess] that’s what triggered her illness,” said Mami Sisca.

Another wish 

When Tika’s body was bathed for the last time in a local ritual known as nyiramang, Mami Sisca revealed that they had suggested that the family members allow makeup artists to work their magic on Tika’s face.

“We convinced them that this is what she would want,” said Mami Sisca.

The family members agreed, but insisted that Tika should appear as a man for the rest of the funeral and should be buried as one. Mami Sisca said she reluctantly obliged, and used this experience to tell other young trans women under her wing to live their best lives as women and not worry too much about what happens after death. 

“We have to be realistic,” she said. 

Dorce Gamalama, a trans icon who passed away recently due to complications from COVID-19 and diabetes, reportedly asked to be buried as a woman. However, her family buried her as a man anyway due to societal pressure

It represented a sad setback for trans rights in Indonesia, considering that Dorce was a pioneer for trans visibility in the country. Furthermore, not only had she had gender reassignment surgery decades ago, a court had also approved her legal status as a woman.

There’s still a long way to go, but the 19-second clip of Tika being granted her wish is certainly something that many LGBTQIA+ Indonesians want to see.  

“I really appreciate it because her family was willing to honor [Tika’s] last request. Especially they allowed trans friends to accompany her departure [from this life] with the dance,” said Arya, the program manager of Denpasar-based NGO focusing on HIV/AIDS education, prevention and support, Yayasan Gaya Dewata.

Dede Oetomo, founder of GAYa NUSANTARA, Indonesia’s oldest LGBT advocacy group, praised the video.

“[The video] showed the old culture that is more tolerant and accepting of differences,” he told Coconuts.

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