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Tana Toraja: The Land Where The Dead Are Fed And Clothed

By Njideka Agbo 26 June 2018   |   6:00 am

Tana Toraja, located on the mountainous island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, is one of the rare places that maintains its ancient culture. Despite a majority being Christians, they do not allow Christianity to get entangled with their animist belief called  Aluk To Dolo “Way of the Ancestors”.

In Toraja, the houses easily get your attention. The horns of buffalos on the houses show how wealthy a family is. Besides some of them are constructed wooden houses with red and black designs.

Built in an old-fashioned traditional way, the Tongkonan as they are called, are wooden houses built to preserve the dead until they are properly buried in large ceremonies. Preparing for the funeral can take years because the family has to save. As a result, the body is kept in the Tongkonan. As long as the body is in the house, it is believed to be “sick” and not dead. Derived from the name Tongkon, the process shows the significant and strong bond between the family and the dead.

Like a living being, the body is fed and clothed. When a visitor sees him after a treat, he is allowed to appreciate him.

A Befitting Burial

Because the “sick” can stay for years in the Tongkonan, when it is about to be buried, the celebration is well deserved and needs to be perfect hence the name Rambu Solo which translates to the ceremony of perfection of death.

A dead body been dressed up. Photo credit TheGuardian/Claudio Sieber

During the funeral, buffalos are engaged in a fight before the Buffalo Cauca Tedong Bonga is slaughtered as a highlight of the funeral.
Sometimes, spells are cast on the body to make them walk by themselves to the Balle graves.

Once in the grave, they are buried alongside their favourite piece mostly consisting mainly of cigarettes and watches.

Also, when the family visits, they come with the dead’s favourite piece and drop by the grave.

On the other side of the grave are the Tau Tau doll-like images which serve as guardian angels.

Due to the change in times, some of the sick are taken to the mausoleum. But this does not stop their tradition. Families still take out to be cleaned and changed before they are taken back until the time for a befitting burial.

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