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A burial plot to die for near Jakarta

The newly built Al-Azhar Memorial Garden has an area of 25ha in all. The surging demand and sales in the business of booking burial spots in advance reflect how traditional taboos on planning for death are fading. (PHOTO: AL-AZHAR MEMORIAL GARDEN)

Publication Date : 14-01-2013


More affluent Indonesians are buying premium resting places in advance


When her son got married, Dr Endang Johani held the wedding reception at a clubhouse just outside the capital in the sprawling breezy green hills of a cemetery.

"At first, quite a number of people - including the bride's family - opposed the idea: Why a cemetery? Isn't it taboo?" the ophthalmologist said.

She had bought six burial plots for her family at the San Diego Hills Memorial Park. Located in Karawang, West Java, 46km east of Jakarta, it is the country's largest private cemetery.

When her husband died, she was moved by the way its staff helped prepare him for burial and arranged for a Muslim religious leader to perform the last rites.

Holding the reception near his resting place also put her at ease. "It was like a picnic. My grandchildren had a place to play."

As more Indonesians enter the upper ranks of the middle class and start thinking about a comfortable spot in the afterlife as Jakarta runs out of burial space, several companies have stepped in to offer premium cemetery plots - facilities and all - on its outskirts.

The business of booking burial spots in advance is booming, too.

Surging demand and sales reflect how traditional taboos on planning for death, which many regard as a secret known only to God, are fading.

They also reflect the existence of a growing segment of the population with sufficient disposable income to want a good final resting place, but who do not want their families to be burdened by rising property prices.

Among them is corporate lawyer Adi Nugroho. He bought two privately managed burial plots in Taman Giri Tama cemetery in Tonjong, south of Jakarta.

"I feel comfortable about this," he said. "It's for my wife and me."

Jeffry Yamin, marketing general manager at Lestari Memorial Garden in Karawang, said: "People are more open to talking about death. Everyone will die, it's up to us whether we want to make preparations early."

He added: "Land is getting more scarce and prices keep rising. What if we pass away 10, 20 years from now and our family cannot afford to buy land?"

San Diego Hills, which also features a boating lake, boutiques, Italian restaurant and family recreational centre with a pool, was the first to cash in on the trend.

Opened in 2007 by the Lippo Group, it has sections for Buddhists, Christians and Muslims.

At Al-Azhar Memorial Garden, which saw its first burial last May, a single plot costs 23 million rupiah (US$2,400) and an extended family package for booking 10 graves costs 185 million rupiah.

Al-Azhar director Rachmat Effendi Achlil said it has already sold 80 per cent of its initial 5ha development, or some 5,000 plots. It covers an area of 25ha in all.

At San Diego Hills, prices are more wide-ranging, depending on what accessories are added to the burial plot and the location. Some overlook the boating lake in one section, those with statues are in a different section, and others are on plain grass fields.

Among the most expensive plots are those with gazebos with pagoda roofs, and gardens with benches for visiting family.

The cemetery's facility manager, Lisdayani Ramli, said the most expensive plot, on the crest of a hill, was bought for 8 billion rupiah by the family of a late Indonesian mining magnate.

Prices at these cemeteries include a lifelong maintenance fee, as between 10 per cent and 15 per cent of the price is set aside for it.

This compares with a usual fee of 6 million rupiah for burial on state land in Jakarta, but this often comes with a 50,000 rupiah monthly maintenance fee and a yearly rental fee.

More than 120 people die every day in Jakarta, and they are typically buried in these plots.

"We are like a property developer," Rachmat said in an interview with The Straits Times.

"We're creating certain landscapes, building roads, bridges and houses. These houses, though, are for the afterlife."


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