Funerals R Us
Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
144Trip End Oct 06, 2013
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The Tarajan people celebrate death via two funerals- one immediately following the death, with the larger celebration seemingly dictated by when the family can afford to host the event and purchase the livestock required for sacrifices
The soul of the deceased is thought to linger around the village until the funeral ceremony is completed. The second funeral is typically the bigger deal of the two and can run from two days to a week and although they are village affairs, they are also open to anyone as part of Torajan hospitality. And since most families tend to schedule the funerals for the summer dry season (a time when extended family can also make their way back) it did seem as though death was sweeping through the communities at the time of our visit.
The richer and more powerful the individual who passed, the more expensive and elaborate the funeral. The Torajan population has a history of class structure (nobles, commoners, and slaves) and, while slavery has been abolished, the extensive death feast is normally the purview of the higher class only (but that may have more to do with money than class structure these days)
The most well known component of the ritual is the slaughter of water buffalo- the more powerful the person who died, the more buffalo killed at the death feast. We watched as a good number of buffalo were led into the square, a fortunate few were donated to church and community groups, and the rest were horrifically slaughtered in rapid succession by young men using machetes- we had expected to see a buffalo sacrificed, but the bloodletting and maniacal shouting that took place left me stunned and slack-jawed (DH had left the area and was hiding behind a building with her eyes closed).
Please be advised that I won't be posting any pictures of this horror show- some things are just best left unseen.
Buffalo carcasses, including their heads, are usually lined up in a field waiting for their owner, who is in the "sleeping stage". Torajans believe that the deceased will need the buffalo to make the journey and that they will be quicker to arrive in the afterlife if they have many buffalo
The coffin of a baby or child may be hung from ropes on a cliff face or from a tree. This hanging grave usually lasts for years, until the ropes rot and the coffin falls to the ground. And one of the most unusual baby grave-sites we saw (although no longer used), was a tree which contained the remains of several infants- apparently the sap is of a milky white consistency that people of the time believed would nourish the child as mothers milk, and the bodies were inserted upright into the trunk so the deceased would grow vertically and up toward the heavens.
Beyond the constant reminders of death, the traditional Torajan homes were a big part of the local landscape- I'm sure that at some point these will fade to the few required for tourism but right now they are everywhere and used for both homes and for storage. Tongkonan stand high on round wooden piles (to keep the rats out), topped with a layered split-bamboo roof shaped in a sweeping curved arc, and they are incised with red, black, white, and yellow detailed wood carvings on the exterior walls. As a bow to the modern world, some of the roofing was now metal, and more than one of these ancient structures had a huge satellite dish parked out front.
And to balance the many sombre funeral events we attended, we managed to get invited to a wedding (although some might suggest that a wedding is simply another funeral ceremony with the guest of honour dressed in white instead of black??). The church portion of the wedding was a carbon copy of the cure for insomnia we see in North American but the reception looked like it was going to be a great open air party. We also did a number of hikes in the surrounding countryside taking in some spectacular vistas and wandering through an extensive array of rice fields (is any crop in the world more labour intensive than rice- absolutely backbreaking!).
Toraja was a fascinating stop on our world tour and despite the focus on dying and death, I found this area, and Sulawesi in general, captivating. All the people dressed in black had DH renewing her demands that I finish up my will- according to her it's a very simple document- regardless of how I might pass (poisoning, blunt force trauma, electrocution in a bath tube,...), I leave everything to her and she will ensure that I am properly buried in a cave?? Perhaps it's the superstitions from my sporting days but I'm still convinced that just minutes after completing a death document/will a bus with my name on it will come speeding around the corner (or stampeding buffaloes in this part of the world?). Maybe I'll just keep dragging my feet on that one.