With our senses reeling after a morning attending a funeral ceremony in Rantepao, we continued with our guide, a driver (and an Italian man we had met who shared the trip with us) to see the cave graves.
The Toraja people believe that you can take possessions with you into the afterlife. As this led to grave plundering, they started to hide their dead in caves. These caves are hollowed out by specialist cave builders. Coffins go deep inside the caves, and sitting on balconies on the rock face in front of the caves are tau tau -wooden effigies of the dead. There is one tau tau for each person in the rock grave, they are clothed and the more recent ones are likenesses of the entombed people. Many older ones unfortunately have been stolen by antique dealers. One cave may hold many family members. The elaborate bier that has been used to transport the coffin to the rock face is just abandoned and left to rot, never used again for another person.
We also visited baby graves. When a baby dies before they have teeth, they are often buried in special trees. An entrance is hollowed out and the baby is put in with its head pointing upwards, as the Toraja believe as the tree grows, so also will the baby slowly rise, until it can be released to heaven. The entrance is secured with a cover.
An older area was the hanging graves, where the coffins were suspended on two vertical pieces of wood hammered into the rock face. Many of these have now rotted and fallen down, the skulls and bones often left just where they have fallen.
More recently, some people are buried in concrete tombs with photos or tau tau in front of them.
The photos will show better what we are trying to explain.
Thanks to those who have sent an email through the trip journal. It is always good to get snippets of news from "the real world" when you are traveling.