Tana Toraja “The living dead” or “Merry funeral!”

Tucked away in a small inexperienced valley, the individuals of Tana Toraja interpret their Christian perception in a very open-minded means. In addition to regular church service they nonetheless follow historic and really complicated rituals around their lifeless ancestors.

The definition of “dead”

Our guide Yohanis picks us up at our hostel in Rantepao. “You are very lucky! At this time of the year there are many funeral ceremonies.” he says, “Everybody can take holiday during Christmas and New Year’s festivities, so the family can get together easily for a funeral.”

Chances are you’ll marvel how respectful Torajan relations are to die at a handy time for the entire family. But after a second thought we understand that there have to be more to this story. Certainly, Torajans die such as you and me: At any age and any time of the yr. Nevertheless, in the Torajan tradition, the funeral could be held months or even years later. Sure…sounds weird… however that is why the funerals might be conveniently scheduled at a date when all relations can attend. In addition to with the ability to get the complete household collectively, there’s additionally a second cause why the funeral ceremonies are usually not held instantly after the individual deceased.

Torajan fashion funerals costs several ten hundreds of Euros. Yes, you learn appropriately. A number of TEN THOUSANDS of EUROS. Rich households might even spend a number of hundred thousand Euros on the ceremonies. Thus a family might needs further time to collect the funds for the celebration.

However, the individual is lifeless and the lifeless don’t wait, you assume? The shocking reply is: Sure, the lifeless Torajans DO wait!

How does that work? Nicely, it’s all concerning the definition of the term “dead”. Once a person is deceased, her body shall be conserved by way of trendy or conventional methods, utilizing formalin or special herbal balms. The deceased individual shouldn’t be thought-about lifeless, however sick, so long as the funeral has not but taken place. She shall be laid in a mattress in a separate room, will receive friends and can be served food from living relations. Visiting a “sick” individual is a superb honor for the guest.
On the funeral, which is more often than not a reasonably completely satisfied household get-together, a number of rituals have to be executed earlier than the sick individual truly makes the passage into the realm of the lifeless.

An acoustic journey to a funeral

An fascinating article about Indonesian literature cites the poet Goenawan Mohamad saying about his personal individuals: “We Indonesians are more sociable and love a good dose of noise.”
The extreme acoustic experience of that day begins once we are picked up in Rantepao by our nice driver in a rattly previous 4WD. Might the joyful honking start! As soon as we’ve left the crowded streets behind we discover ourselves on pink dust tracks. The driving force replaces the honking with candy Indonesian melodies blaring from the tiny radio audio system. Our information Yohanis and the driving force chime in cheerfully.

Dark clouds present us shelter from the burning tropical sun whereas kindly holding again the rain for the moment. Still they’re already mumbling down menaces.

We cross by a number of traditional villages and can’t get sufficient of the gorgeous Torajan houses referred to as “Tongkonan” (read extra concerning the Tongkonan in our trekking article on Toraja)in between the inexperienced rice fields.

As we strategy the village where the funeral ceremony is held, the streets get more crowded. Rabid bombard tunes blare out of an affordable beat box: it is the ice-cream seller’s jingle. He has strapped a cool box filled with popsicles on his scooter. Several friends in darkish or black outfit stand around him chatting and eating a cone.

We leap off the automotive and walk into a gaggle of traditional homes, together with several different visitors, all cheerfully gossiping. We have now to stop a number of occasions to stand nonetheless for a few selfies that the curious Torajans like to take along with pale skinned lengthy noses. Indonesians are very fond of their cell telephones … and tourists.

Concerning the Torajan funeral

Relying on the wealth of the household, Torajan funeral festivals can final several days.

Whereas poor individuals from a lower caste usually are not obliged to organize great festivities for his or her deceased, it is thought-about to be obligatory for rich and reputed households from greater castes.

travel tipp infoTorajan society is organized as a caste system of aristocrats, commoners and serfs or slaves. Marriages of girls to a person of a lower caste have been forbidden and the serfs or slaves thought-about unclean, in order that for instance their eating utensils have been segregated from the utensils of the higher courses. Whereas in trendy Toraja, slavery is in fact unlawful and mentioning the personal caste or rank is considered impolite, the castes are de facto still in place and every member of the society knows his place in the system. That reflects also in the necessities of the respective funeral ceremony and in addition within the professions that folks will selected for a living.

In the first days of a funeral pageant, the household of the deceased formally receives the visitors, adhering to the next rule: The more, the merrier! Yohanis explains that it’s thought-about to please the spirit of the deceased to see many individuals at the funeral and a happy ancestor spirit in flip brings luck to the whole household in the future. Particularly western faces are welcome, as their appearance is seen as a logo for the importance of the deceased individual. The number of friends throughout nowadays easily can sum up to several thousand individuals!

Throughout the following days, many buffaloes and pigs can be slaughtered, and a number of other rituals carried out: The village individuals sing and dance of their conventional method, a ceremonial grasp prays and tells stories concerning the deceased. Rich households also typically host water buffalo fights on a rice subject close by, the place a whole lot of people will gather to observe the spectacle (and guess considerable amounts of cash on the outcomes of the fights).

The funeral ends with the lengthy procession of the coffin by means of the village to its remaining destination: the household grave.

Earlier than these rituals have been accomplished, the deceased individual shouldn’t be thought-about lifeless, but sick: The temper on funerals is subsequently festive and cheerful. One of the necessary features of the funeral ceremony is the family getting together. Household bonds are highly valued within the Torajan society. And it really works: Torajans come again residence from everywhere in the world to take part of their relative’s funerals, they socialize and get launched to new relations and thus their bonds strengthen.

The second necessary perform of the funeral ceremony is to deliver the deceased individual safely to “the other side” to hitch with the ancestors. There they rework into protecting ancestor spirits who watch over the family and the village. So it is in everyone’s curiosity that this passage into the afterlife is profitable. That explains the vivid participation of the village individuals. One more reason could be the free meals, betel and booze, too.

The pageant terrain

We stand in front of a giant dust and dirt coated place in the midst of the cluster of Tongkonans, the normal homes. On the suitable hand aspect, we see the lifeless’s home with the coffin in first flooring. On the ground flooring stands a picture of the deceased and his picket statue, a privilege of upper castes. Lower castes should not make a picket statue of their deceased.

On the left hand aspect of the lifeless’s home stands the primary home through which the closest household sits and watches over the whole ceremony.

From a smaller hut situated on the proper hand aspect of the deceased’s home, the ceremonial grasp declares new arrivals of visitors and feedback what is occurring on the pageant grounds throughout the entire ceremony with the assistance of a microphone and loud speakers. For instance, he informs everyone about which guest will get which a part of the buffalo as a present, who brings which current to the household and when the subsequent buffalo is killed. In between, he prays and tells stories from the deceased individual’s life.

On the opposite aspect of the place, the smaller rice storing homes supply shelter and seats in the shadows for plenty of visitors sitting and talking vigorous.

In a second row throughout the place bamboo shelters make further area and seats for extra friends. These shelters have been constructed for the funeral solely. They may decay and not be used once more after the days of the funeral have passed.

Close to the doorway to the village, four picket pillars with a small roof stand tilted over a muddy brown floor. This is where the buffaloes shall be sacrificed.

Straight forward from the entrance we see the „reception home“. Also particularly constructed only for the funeral, this is the place the place the historically clothed grandchildren will serve food and drinks to the waves of newly arriving friends.

In the middle of the place stands a small plastic pavilion. Some village males are chopping items out of the bodies of the sacrificed buffaloes and pigs here. Two buffalo heads, coverd with a thick layer of black flies lie already on the ground. The whole space is a puddle of blood and the view not for the fainthearted.

The reception ceremony

As we arrive some village men unload a jeep filled with living pigs. For transport, the pigs are strapped to an archaic wanting bamboo development. The intensely squeaking animals are laid into the shadows for the second. They will be transported to the kitchen later. A balloon vendor stands on the entrance to the funeral place.

On the primary place, village men in purple shirts and black skirts dance, hum and sing in an enormous circle. Previous village ladies in inexperienced clothes present the rhythm by drumming giant bamboo sticks (larger than baseball bats) on a picket trough. The deep throaty sound of their voices provides us goose bumps.

We sit underneath the rice barns the place many other visitors are already shaking palms and speaking loudly. A fats boar wallows in the mud in front of our seats. The rotund, dirty animal oinks fortunately.

Then the village individuals stop to sing and sit down together with the place.

On the principal home a procession strains up, lead by an previous, wrinkly man in black garments with a picket scepter in his arms. Behind him comply with an virtually equally previous flute player and a feminine singer with microphone performing a music. They’re adopted by countless village individuals coming from the kitchen. Ladies carry food trays and males carry massive tea pots. They meander by means of the place and eventually make their method to the reception home to serve the meals and drinks to the final wave of visitors which has arrived and is seated there.

After the visitors within the reception home have finished their meals, the spectacle starts over: Another procession is organizing itself on the entrance to the Tongkonan cluster as a gaggle of latest visitors has arrived: The procession is lead by three males in conventional conflict clothes who dance on the front, followed by the principal mourners, the grandchildren in conventional garments. Behind them comply with the new friends that have simply arrived. They transfer slowly to the reception house to be officially acquired there. Shortly after, they are going to be served drinks and meals as described above.

Over the reason for the afternoon, this sample repeats time and again until all friends have been formally acquired and the crowds start to fade.

The animal choices

The pigs squeak, howl and cry in panic. Luckily we’re saved from seeing them killed as they’re slaughtered behind the scenes near the kitchen buildings.

Two water buffaloes are being proven to all of the friends earlier than they are tied to one of the picket pillars and washed earlier than being sacrificed.

travel tipp infoWater buffaloes are essential for the funeral ceremony. They’re stated to deliver the soul of the deceased securely to the “other side”. Also, the deceased is then thought-about as “dead” as an alternative of “sick”, when his physique has been placed in a sure path and when various water buffaloes (it have to be at the least 24) has been sacrificed.

After a extra or less actual throat minimize by a machete, a fountain of blood shoots out of the animal’s throat. As it’s a robust male, he does not shortly fall to the bottom. In his agony the animal runs wild and it takes several men to maintain him more or much less underneath control. A few minutes later his legs give out from beneath him and he collapses. The blood mixes on the ground with the brown mud. In the background the village individuals sing rhythmically. Relations murmur and comply with the killing intently. Pigs cry in agony. I hear my very own blood dashing via my veins. The large animal releases a last deep snort before his life fades away. I don’t watch the second killing, as I really feel queasy.

The lifeless buffalo is tightened to a rope and 6 men pull him to the slaughtering pavilion, leaving a darkish purple trail in the mud.

We take a last look around, take some extra pictures and depart for lunch. Christian eats a buffalo steak. I’m going for some vegetarian meals.

Earlier than we depart, we get a goodbye current: An honest, recent buffalo rip. Our information Yohanis explains to us the perform of the offerings also in the context of Torajan society. It is customized that each visitor receives a bit of an animal that is slaughtered this present day. He tells us that he considers it also as “social meat”. We’re honored to obtain such a main piece.

One other funeral ceremony in preparation

We go to another Tongkonan group where a funeral ceremony is in preparation.

The previous widower, already affected by dementia and presently in a harmful temper, throws an enormous bamboo pole down the first flooring’s balcony of his house. He misses Christian by a hair, fortunately! It seems someone “stole” his flip flops and he obtained indignant when he could not discover them.

Also at this place the primary buffalo is already reduce up.

In two days we’ll come again, take a whole lot more selfies with visitors, eat Torajan food and witness extra conventional rituals across the ceremony.

For now, we’re very drained after today filled with intense impressions. However even in our lodge room the acoustic expertise does not find an finish. A horrific Karaoke night time right outdoors our room window takes place. The songs are interpreted so “well” that even the Torajan canine chime in howling.

travel tipp infoDon’t travel to Indonesia and not using a pair of earplugs.

The buffalo struggle

Two days before we now have seen some preparations for the ceremony, but as we arrive as we speak, the funeral is in its full move. Women and men stand hand in hand within the middle ground of the Tongkonan cluster and sing of their traditional ways.

Meanwhile, subsequent to a rice area close to the ceremonial ground, various ice cream sellers and refreshment huts have popped up. Many people, principally males, are gathering across the rice area. They wait smoking.

A buffalo struggle will start quickly. As a part of the funeral ceremony the buffalo struggle is a further component of displaying the deceased’s and his family’s significance to the world.

After a very long time of ready two buffaloes are lead onto the sector. Around me the murmuring begins and bundles of money change arms: The lads are gambling on who will win the struggle.

Our impression is that the majority water buffalos are very peaceful creatures. They need some nice green grass and a puddle of mud…that’s all. To get them concerned right into a battle, they should be introduced very close to one another and even then the battle typically does not begin. After some extra “motivation” nevertheless, they get pissed off enough to battle. If one of the bulls nonetheless doesn’t need to battle, he will run away earlier than the struggle truly begins and is replaced by one other “champion” buffalo.

As soon as the battle has truly began, it’s simple: The animals surround one another for some minutes. Then they meet up their heads, lock their horns and attempt to wrestle the opponent to the ground. As soon as they made out between themselves who’s the stronger bull, the opposite gallops away. The whole battle takes about 5 to 15 minutes.

In a nutshell, a buffalo struggle is way much less bloody than I had imagined. I appreciated it, regardless that it’s sort of a farce given the peaceful character of these animals.

The coffin procession

Now the rain and thunder have started. One other buffalo is sacrificed in the midst of the small ceremonial ground, and we take shelter underneath the roofs of one Tongkonan with a purpose to eat some conventional bamboo-cooked rice with pork.

After the extreme prayers of the ceremonial grasp the strongest rain has ceased and males are getting ready for the long procession of the deceased individual’s physique via the village.

The lifeless individual’s picket effigy is taken off its pageant seating and carried to the entrance of the procession.

A colorfully adorned bamboo development will hold the coffin. Some village helpers are presently heaving it off the first story of the normal house. Once the coffin is positioned in the carrying development many males gather around it to take it up their shoulders. The son of the deceased woman sits down cheerfully on prime of the development and can be carried away together with his deceased mother beneath loads of cheering and screaming from the individuals round.

Hooked up to the coffin development is a 30 meter lengthy, broad pink tissue. Underneath this tissue the ladies row up and comply with the procession underneath cheers.

The procession takes an hour through which the coffin is transported by way of the village and then again to the pageant grounds.

Just earlier than the procession is again on the grounds, it stops in the streets and will get actually crazy: The lads put the bamboo development with the coffin down on the road. Then they begin pulling and tearing on the construction beneath loud and powerful chants, and the whole development with coffin shakes wildly. In a savage frenzy and a loud noise from the gang across the men turn the coffin round and spherical and spherical, while the son of the deceased individual nonetheless sits on prime.

All of that is presupposed to symbolize the power of the family and the village society.

Once again between the normal homes, the exhausted village men who helped carrying the coffin, get free beer and cigarettes and continue to rejoice loudly.

We take shelter underneath one roof again, too, and continue speaking to the various friends until late.

Learn extra…


Did you want this submit? Do you have got own experiences to share? Please depart us a remark!