Tana Toraja, Sulawesi
Feb 1, 2016
|Life for the Torajaen people revolves around death and they spend their days earning money to send their dead away properly. Yesterday we met a man with a mattress strapped on his motorbike. After talking with him we learned that this was to put in his mother's coffin when she would be buried in 3 or 6 months time.
The most important Torajaen ceremony is the funeral because they believe without proper funeral rites, the soul of the deceased will bring bad luck to the family. The Toraja generally have two ceremonies, one immediately after death, with another more elaborate one when arrangements have been made. The deceased is injected with formaldehyde and stays in the family home until arrangements have been completed.
The second funeral can take place over several days and involve hundreds of guests. The Toraja believe that the souls of animals should follow their masters hence the importance of animal sacrifices. Buffalo and pigs are slaughtered. Buffalo are a status symbol for the Toraja and are of great importance. Unfortunately, it seems to have become a kind of status symbol to slaughter as many buffalo as possible to show your wealth and people are putting themselves in debt, and spending money on elaborate funeral ceremonies to the detriment of their children's schooling or upgrading of their houses.
We attended a funeral near Rantepao with a guide. It seems like a bizarre thing to do, but families welcome tourists coming and taking photos. There also was a professional photographer taking a video of proceedings for the family. This was day two of the funeral for a lady who had been dead three years. There had been a dispute over the inheritance, that is why it had been dragged out so long.
A buffalo had been slaughtered earlier in the morning (glad we did not witness that) and was simmering away in a large container ready for lunch. A group of ladies, all wearing the same tops, were in another area getting their hair and makeup done, including powder to lighten their complexions. These were the serving ladies. All the grandchildren of the deceased lady were in special, elaborate beaded costumes to greet the attendees.
Throughout the morning, relatives arrived from afar. Each clan was walked into the yard led by a family elder, while the MC announced their names. They went first to the refreshment bamboo structure where the ladies were given betel nuts, then tea and cakes and the men received cigarettes. The men formed themselves into a circle in the yard and sang and danced.
Pigs were periodically carried in hung from bamboo or on the back of motorbikes and several buffalo were also led in. The MC also announced who had brought which animal and it had a letter sprayed on it. Apparently there is a "unofficial" ledger where it is remembered who provided a pig or buffalo at your relatives funeral and you are expected to reciprocate at a later date. Just while we were there, we counted 50 pigs and 5 buffalo arriving.
The pigs are stabbed in the heart to kill them. A blow torch is used to singe the bristles off and then the meat is distributed, part to the person who donated it, some to the funeral family to feed the visitors and some to the nearby villagers. If there are way too many animals brought, the Church is given some alive and they sell them at a later date for funds.
We were invited for coffee, cakes and palm wine, which we enjoyed.... and also to join the family for lunch of pork and rice. This we politely declined, and once you have looked at the photos, you will understand why!
Many of the structures you see in the photos have been specially erected and decorated for the funeral. Once it is over, these are dismantled and the wood used for firewood. No one wants to reuse them.
Warning: You may find some of the photos disturbing.