A Funeral for the Ages

Rantepao Travel Blog

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the calm before the storm...
The Tana Toraja have been sacrificing animals as part of their funeral ceremony for over a thousand years.  While it is certainly one of the most unique 'cultural' events I've ever witnessed, it also ranks as one of the most brutal.  When a member of the Tana Toraja community passes away, they are left in the home of the widow(er) or one of the children, embalmed, and treated as if they were 'sleeping'.  That means that family members provide a small offering of food at all meal times and frequently visit the body. 

It isn't until the family has saved enough money that they can hold the funeral ceremony and finally say goodbye to their loved one.  They require this money to prepare everything from the funeral site, to the burial, to clothing worn by the mourners, and also to purchase the sacrificial animals.
nurses gathered and readied themselves.... (joking)
  At the funeral I attended, over a HUNDRED animals (buffalo, albino buffalo, deer, cow and pigs) were sacrificed.  One local told me that a family can leave a body in their house for up to 15 years if they have trouble coming up with the money.

 While a funeral doesn't seem like such a costly expense to us in the western world, a ceremony of this magnitude (up to 5 days) can cost a family many more times than what they earn in a single year.  Consider that the albino buffalo, at least 5 of which were sacrificed at the funeral I attended, can cost as much as US$10,000 at a local market.  So families must save for years in preparation for their own funerals.  Then the family must pool all of its resources together and save for as long as it takes to do the funeral in a proper manner.
pig on a stick anyone?
  They will receive some animals as gifts, but still the costs are staggering.  While most of the animals are sacrificed, some are actually spared so that the family has animals with which to provide them income, work for the farm, and future breeding. The slain animals are quickly skinned of their hides, which are then immediately shipped to Jakarta, where they fetch healthy sums.  The meat is butchered and sold to the local community.  So the expense of the wedding turns out to be an 'investment' of sorts.  They do recover a good portion of the money spent.

You're probably asking why they have felt the need to accompany death with more death.  The Tana Toraja, who have been converted to Christianity over the years, are still animists at heart.  They believe that the spirit of the deceased is not truly dead until they have performed this ceremony.  The animals are sacrificed in order to accompany and protect the spirit of the deceased in the afterlife.  The funeral is the final tribute to a loved one, so obviously the bigger the funeral, the more respect paid to a family member. 
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the calm before the storm...
the calm before the storm...
nurses gathered and readied themse…
nurses gathered and readied thems…
pig on a stick anyone?
pig on a stick anyone?
albino buffalos chase as much as U…
albino buffalos chase as much as …
incredibly the buffalo stood by ca…
incredibly the buffalo stood by c…
Before.....
Before.....
.....and after
.....and after
and quickly the hide is removed, e…
and quickly the hide is removed, …
pigs were sacrificed then emptied…
pigs were sacrificed then 'emptie…
hungry?  why wait...
hungry? why wait...
gives a whole new meaning to flam…
gives a whole new meaning to 'fla…
the markings represent the familie…
the markings represent the famili…
a REALLY old-fashioned pig roast...
a REALLY old-fashioned pig roast...
VIP.... son of the deceased.  i wa…
VIP.... son of the deceased. i w…
on-lookers in the booth next to us…
on-lookers in the booth next to u…
rack of ribs... toraja style
rack of ribs... toraja style
lucky one.... believe it or not, t…
lucky one.... believe it or not, …
not one of the lucky ones...
not one of the lucky ones...
next victim....
next victim....
holding the head high so as to exp…
holding the head high so as to ex…
i know what youre thinking, but t…
i know what you're thinking, but …
tied to a steak, the buffalo could…
tied to a steak, the buffalo coul…
point of impact
point of impact
buffalo soldiers...
buffalo soldiers...
fallen buffalo littered pit of mud…
fallen buffalo littered pit of mu…
the buffalo will accompany the dec…
the buffalo will accompany the de…
this fighter needed to be tied to …
this fighter needed to be tied to…
this one wasnt going without a fi…
this one wasn't going without a f…
for a while some of the buffalo ac…
for a while some of the buffalo a…
the Toraja come together before t…
the funeral ceremony of the tana …
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photo by: vidalibre