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Mystical Indonesia – death rituals in Tana Toraja
People go travel to explore, to discover, to learn something new about the world and about themselves... It's a true blessing to be able to get to authentic places, where people live according to the traditional rules and celebrate mythical rituals, with a history dating back centuries.
 
In Indonesia reality stil  interweaves with magic and the mysterious atmosphere is present in many places through tribal traditions of native people living in the Archipelago. One of the very special regions is Tana Toraja – a little part of the highlands in the southern part of Sulawesi island, known also as 'The Land of Torajans' (indigenous tribe inhabiting the neighborhood). For the Toraja people life is strongly interconnected with death and their funeral ceremonies practiced in very much the same way over many centuries are claimed to be the most complex in the world.
 
Funeral is the ceremony that marks the social and economic status of the whole family. That is why people don't save money to provide themselves a better life, but for a proper send off in death when the time comes. Every family possess next to own house, so called 'house of the dead' – tongkonan, with exterior walls high piled with horn of various buffalo, signifying the wealth of the family. This is the place where embalmed corpse of a dead relative is being kept until the family has a chance to save up enough money for the funeral ceremonies. It can take months or sometimes even years. Until that time, the relatives consider their deceased to be alive, but in a state of sickness.  
 
Funeral tradition reflects a blend of grief and wealth and last for days. The whole extended family and almost all people in the village take part in ceremonies. The most spectacular part of the ritual is animals slaughter. Family members are obliged to slaughter buffalo and pigs, as according to the belief, only that way the spirit of the deceased will live peacefully thereafter and can begin its journey to the Land of Souls as soon as the first buffalo has been sacrificed. After the slaughter, the meat is being distributed between all the funeral participants and the horns of killed animals are being placed in front of the house of the kin (tongkonan).
 
The corpse is being burried after the 11th day of ceremony, by putting in specially prepared caves up on the cliff. As faith in the afterlife is strongly maintained among the Torajans, the deceased are burried with items they would need on their journey.  In the balcony of the tomb, family puts wood-carved figures called tau tau. The effigies are carved with the likeness of the dead person and are aimed to represent them in watching over the remains.
 
The funeral rituals are centric for the people living in Tana Toraja and carefully fulfilled throughout generations with all its bloody and macabre accents. The only exception is the ceremony of burying toothless babies. If a child dies before has started teething, is being wrapped in cloth and places inside a hollowed out space within the trunk of a growing tree. People believe that as the tree begins to heal, the child's essence will become a part of the tree and will be given a second life in the nature.  Many children can be placed within a single tree and the plants are generally known as 'Baby Trees'.
 
The Torajan heritage is still very much a 'living culture'. Witnessing the funeral ceremonies is surely a lifetime or even life-changing experience that enables you to take a completely different perspective on life-death issues. Tana Toraja is definitely one of the truly magical lands within the Archipelago until today.
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