The Alive and the Dead in Perfect Harmony

In the South Sulawesi region of Indonesia, Toraja is an ethnic group, with a population of 1,100,000. Toraja people are considered to have deep rooted family beliefs with considering each village as an extended family and close-knit marriages are very common among these people. However, these people are known around the globe for their unique Funeral Rites. They are keen at believing that after death the soul remains in the house and with this very belief, they keep the bodies of their family and loved ones preserved after their demise, treating the deceased as lively as a living person treat another with clothes, ornaments, foods, warm hugs on various occasions. They strongly believe that the most important thing about life is death itself, which is clearly visible in their last rites as funeral of an average person costs plenty, and people save and spend a lump-sum amount on funerals. For those among them who doesn’t have the sufficient amount for the rituals, they chose the alternative way of preserving the body, until time comes. The idea of preserving comes from prevalent views of death being an instance of a person’s life while the soul takes time to pass over to the other side. After the death of a person, the corpse is kept at home and thought of as a sick person or in their words, Makula. The bodies were traditionally wrapped in blankets and preserved with herbal elixirs and smouldering fires – although this tradition ended later on replacing the preservation procedure of bodies with the procedure of mummification, using chemicals, mostly Formalin as well-preserved bodies are supposed to bring good fortune to the rest of the family. As death is inevitable and comes unnoticed, mummifying the body until the funeral gives the family some time to cope with the emotional distress at hand as well as to prepare for a wealthy and memorable funeral. The family of the deceased raises enough money, resulting up to months and often years for the final ceremony for the dead to gradually process towards Puya or the afterlife. The corpse remains at home during this time, with utmost care from the family until the final ceremony commences. The ritual is a grand ceremony celebrating both life and death, with at least 6 water buffalo slaughter and in case of a funeral of noble family they sacrifice up to 100 water buffaloes, which signifies the journey to afterlife, this sacrifice is locally called Rambu Solo. Rambu Solo costs the major of the whole cost of 700 million Indonesian rupiah for the lower caste and for the upper caste it can go up to 3 trillion rupiah.  Other rituals like Bulangan Londong or cockfight after which dance and music and feast takes place after that. After all rituals are completed, the deceased are buried in a cave inside a coffin or the coffin is simply hung from the cliff as they believe Earth is a representative of mother, who gives life through the land and to bury bodies in the ground would, in essence, defile that purity. This is however not the last time the family gets to see the dead, as in a yearly ritual on August or September named Ma'Nene takes place, where the living shares some quality time with the dead as they exhume the body to be washed, groomed and provide some belongings and new accessories to the dead while both the alive and the dead live together in harmony in the mountainous region of Toraja, Indonesia till date.

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