Attending a Toraja Funeral
Makale Travel Blog› entry 14 of 25 › view all entries
Tana Toraja (or Toraja Land) is famous for the traditional burial ceremonies amongst its Christian population.
When people die, they're preserved (formerly using balsam but now with formalin) then kept at home for up to a few years while funds are accumulated for an elaborate ceremony or while relatives are brought together for the ceremony. Organs are not removed but fluids are left to run out. Our guide does say that it stinks a bit having the departed around in the home.
It can take a while to save up for a big event as it involves the sacrifice and sharing of dozens of buffaloes. Each can cost the equivalent of thousands of US dollars.
While the funeral season is truly over, we were lucky enough to have organised an invitation (tour) in advance to attend the funeral of a deceased couple near Ulusalu.
Their bodies were kept high on an elaborate platform while most of the activities occurred at ground level.
Our Hands-On Experience
At the ceremony itself, guests comprising family members, neighbours, fellow villagers and villagers from surrounding areas are herded into numbered sheds. They await their turn to present their gifts of buffaloes to their hosts, the family of the deceased.
In return, guests receive chunks of pig slaughtered in the background. But guests like us bring a gift of cigarettes and get coffee/tea and biscuits. Phew!
We were there on Day 1 of a ceremony that takes days. The most colourful part (literally) is probably the slaughtering of the buffaloes! One had been sacrificed before we arrived and some more will be sacrificed on Day 3 (as I was told).
Once slaughtered, animals are cut up on a high platform ... apparently its the tradition. And the buffaloes presented by guests are not sacrificed but kept for future occasions. I guess its like not giving away the awkward presents you've received this Xmas ... you keep it for someone's birthday next month.
At the end of the several days of ceremony, the bodies will be taken for burial at a cliff face, rock hole (natural or artificial), in the ground or in small concrete building.
Two Certainties in Life
It was interesting that the two certainties in life (death and taxes) were present at the ceremony.
More about buffaloes
By the way, more about buffaloes:
- Buffaloes are no longer used for ploughing the ricefields ... they have been replaced by mechanised handheld tractors. So buffaloes have a pretty good life as ceremonial gifts ... until they get sacrificed.
- However, since cockfighting has been outlawed, they are increasingly used for fighting. Fighting buffaloes get fed Guiness Stout and egg yolks! Lallang grass also makes them more aggressive.
- While buffaloes are highly prized, Torajans do not use male buffaloes as studs ... they quite happily allow mating as community favours. In contrast, male stud pigs are offered on a commercial basis.