Tana Toraja is a beautiful and picturesque region, located in the southern part of Sulawesi island, around 300 km from Makassar, the island's capital. Toraja became famous thanks to an indigenous tribe, still living within the area, known as Torajans. The tribe, even though officially converted to Christianity during the Dutch colonization, still practises animism – believing that all non-human entities, such as animals or plants and even inanimate phenomena posses a spiritual essence. Torajans are known for developing one of the most complex funeral festivities and burial customs across the Indonesian archipelago and in the world.
Tana Toraja people perceive the funeral as a great celebration of life, the 'going-away' feast and the time when the whole family gathers together for days to perform the funeral rituals along with all the members of the village. At the same time, it's the extravagance of a funeral that marks the status of a family, therefore Torajans work during their lives extremely hard to accumulate enough goods to provide a good send off in death. Still, not everyone can afford the expenses connected with the ceremonies, so a funeral is often being held weeks, months or even years after the death of a person, to give the family enough time to raise money.
The celebration itself consist of a series of ceremonies, known as rambu soloq, over many days. During this time, the deceased is not being buried, but remain under the same roof with his family, embalmed and treated as if was suffering the illness. The family members continue their standard activities, remembering to feed the person and change the clothing regularly.
When the day comes, everyone gathers to perform a ritual buffalo and pigs slaughtering, to reassure a peaceful life of the spirit of a deceased, continuing to herd the buffaloes that have come to join. After the sacrifice, the meat is being distributed between the members of the village and the family, with the accordance to a status one holds in the community. The horns of the buffalo are placed in front of the house of the kin and the more horns decorates the house, the higher position of the owning it family. The soul of the deceased is believed to be present in the village until the end of the ceremonies (up to around 11 days) to travel after to its final destination – the land of souls.
The bodies are technically not buried in the ground, but placed in the wooden coffins in the wholes carved in the cliffs of the rock or being hang on the side of the mountain. A wood-carved effigy called tau tau, that is supposed to represent the person, is then placed in the balcony of the of the tomb to watch over their remains. There is also a separate ground for children's burial, which are called the baby trees. If a child dies before starting teething, it's being wrapped in a cloth and placed in a hollow of the tree and covered with a palm fibre. The belief is that as the tree begins to heel, the child is going to be absorbed and his essence becomes a living part of the tree.
Torajans perform also a ceremony, called Ma'Nene (the ceremony of cleaning corps or tomb sweeping), which involves exhuming the bodies of deceased relatives, washing them, cleaning up the inside of their coffins, and, if the mummified bodies are in good conditions, giving them a fresh range of clothes. The corps are being then walked around the village, following a path of straight lines, just as Hyang – a spiritual entity with supernatural power.
The Tana Toraja heritage is until modern times a living culture, preserving unique aspects of prehistoric traditions which cannot be found in any other part of the world today. At the same time, it presents a different approach to life and death, expressing a special bond between the members of a community and showing the grief as a more natural, spread in time process in human's life to go through. The same way, visiting Tana Toraja and observing the funeral celebrations is with no doubt an amazing experience, that once again sets Indonesia as a one of the richest in culture and tradition country of in the South-East Asia region.