Attending a Toraja Funeral

Makale Travel Blog

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One of the first sights at the funeral is the tax counter ... for the government and church. Tax and Death are the two certainties in life.


Background

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.

Walking down to the funeral village.
 He died 4 years ago while she a year later. 

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).

The bodies are kept on this platform.
 It was a mix of disappointment and relief that I didn't have (or get) to witness something so uniquely gory that will make a real man of me. 

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.

Pigs as gifts.
There was a counter where taxes on food and donation were being collected, in addition to levies by the church. 

More about buffaloes

By the way, more about buffaloes:

  1. 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.  
     
  2. 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.  
     
  3. 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. 

 

bernard69 says:
great review Alex!I was there a month ago and our Torajan guide said that the basic buffalo costs 3000 euro(4500 Usd)!,a fortune for these people who devote 65 % of their income to death.
Posted on: Oct 23, 2009
mariebloom says:
Trying to leave a comment for one hour..... So amazing stories. I'm looking forward when you are back in Auckland . see all your pictures. Learn everything. See you soon you lucky guy, not yet a man but who cares.... All the best for your traval back home. Sweet home. Love love mbb
Posted on: Oct 22, 2009
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One of the first sights at the fun…
One of the first sights at the fu…
Walking down to the funeral villag…
Walking down to the funeral villa…
The bodies are kept on this platfo…
The bodies are kept on this platf…
Pigs as gifts.
Pigs as gifts.
Pigs as gifts.
Pigs as gifts.
Walking down to the funeral villag…
Walking down to the funeral villa…
Ceremony in progress.
Ceremony in progress.
Girls in traditional costumes.
Girls in traditional costumes.
Gift being brought down.
Gift being brought down.
Pig later.
Pig later.
People take their turns to go up t…
People take their turns to go up …
Many guests are seated under these…
Many guests are seated under thes…
Guests are held in numbered sheds …
Guests are held in numbered sheds…
Grand children of the deceased cou…
Grand children of the deceased co…
People coming out from the recepti…
People coming out from the recept…
Meat is customarily cut high up on…
Meat is customarily cut high up o…
Meat is customarily cut high up on…
Meat is customarily cut high up o…
Children love to play ... in this …
Children love to play ... in this…
This was a pig.
This was a pig.
In New Zealand abbatoirs, this is …
In New Zealand abbatoirs, this is…
This was a water buffalo.
This was a water buffalo.
Gifts of buffaloes being presented.
Gifts of buffaloes being presented.
Guests coming to the funeral.
Guests coming to the funeral.
Makale
photo by: yuness