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Jakarta Post

Palang Hitam: Caring for abandoned bodies

Wed, June 12, 2019   /   07:05 pm
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    Unknown: A grave is marked with a wooden plank adorned with the words "0054 Unidentified 11-1-2019". JP/Iqbal Yuwansyah

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    Recovery: Palang Hitam members take an unidentified body to an ambulance. JP/Iqbal Yuwansyah

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    Final bath: A Palang Hitam member bathes a body. JP/Iqbal Yuwansyah

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    Rest his soul: A social worker, alongside Palang Hitam members, carries out an Islamic funeral prayer prior to burial. JP/Iqbal Yuwansyah

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    Stacked high: The red coffins at the Petamburan Cemetery office in Central Jakarta are reserved for unidentified bodies found by the Palang Hitam team. JP/Iqbal Yuwansyah

Iqbal Yuwansyah

Upon receiving a call from the police, the Palang Hitam team quickly rushes to a crime scene in Jakarta. Their task that day was to recover a body found on a riverbank and take it to Cipto Mangunkusumo General Hospital in Central Jakarta. Since the Dutch rule era in Indonesia, the Palang Hitam team has worked to take care of abandoned bodies across Jakarta — whether a murder victim, homeless person or poor resident.

Palang Hitam was managed by a foundation until then-governor Ali Sadikin took over the task force in the 1970s and placed it under the Jakarta Parks and Cemetery Agency.

The 48-strong Palang Hitam task force has recovered, bathed, prayed for and buried those who were murdered, killed in an accident, committed suicide, or died of other causes. Some of the remains are in a horrifying state and cannot be identified.

Some Palang Hitam members admit that sometimes they get caught in distressing moments and witness supernatural things during the job. However, those experiences do not dissuade them from taking the abandoned bodies to their final resting place.