Feeding dead people, sacrificing herds of buffalos, persistent mummification? For most westerners, talking about death is a taboo, but for the Torajans, it’s a lifelong task. The deceased remain for years if not decades in the family houses and wait until their relatives saved up enough money to throw a massive party. In Torajan belief corpses are treated as if sick until their soul will finally find peace after the funeral rites of “Rambu Solo”. It is no surprise dead family members are invited to join lunch on a daily basis. Hence, the cult continues even after the burial, since the ancestors will be regularly taken out of their coffins for Ma’Nene, to get a new fancy outfit and a decent bone polish. „It’s basically like cleaning the room“ states a friend who just returned from his mining job in Lao to participate in the family affairs. Others are crying when meeting their dead relatives again. Ethnicities who could maintain their unique traditions over the years, despite the increasing influence of Christianity and the dashing modernization within Asia, are quite rare nowadays. Their unique story should be told. This photo reportage pays homage to the dead and points out the pros and cons of spirituality, as well as the clash between spirit beliefs and Christianity.
The projects include dozens of emotional, funny and distressing images I was able to take during the past 3 weeks of research within Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi (Indonesia). If you’ve just eaten, please wait for a while until you take a look at it. To have a complete overview I also interviewed the head shaman (Tato Dena, who was on BBC in the 70s) as well as the son of a „Toma Kula” (a sick person), who is storing his dead father in the family house since 11 years. Last but not least I met two local weathermen who are able to control the rain in the area.
Read the full story about the Rambu Solo’ – Funeral, Ma’Nene – Care of Ancestors, Toma Kula’ – The Sick, Tato Dena – The Spirit believer – and To Ma’ Pamanta’ – The Weatherman
Ma’Nene ritual – Emotions
Ma’Nene (care of ancestors) is all about remembering those who have passed away. Although relatives moved to other countries or cities, they will come back for this important family gathering to celebrate Ma’Nene together. During the event the Torajan families clean the corpses of their loved ones, and in some areas they even change their outfit and make fun with them. Ma’Nene follows right after the rice harvest, otherwise the spirits of ancestors would be angry, and next years harvest is bound to be bad. In Torajan belief, all the customs follow a difficult system of rules, which have been orally delivered from generation to generation. Follow this link to read more about Ma’Nene.
Ma’Nene ritual – Cleaning and new outfits
Ma’Nene ritual – Close ups
There’s so much more to tell about Ma’Nene, find out more here
Rambu Solo’ – Funeral
“Is there a funeral going on?” I hear outsiders asking in the town of Rantepao. Indeed, to witness a Rambu Solo is fascinating in its very own way. During a special ritual, the soul of the deceased supposed to raise to Puya (heaven). The more buffalos sacrificed, the faster the soul will find its way. Hence, a whole herd of expensive animals will be slaughtered to ensure a nice trip to Puya, and not least to please all the relatives and the rest of the village with a decent feast. Some families wait years if not decades until they can agree on a funeral date. All family members living abroad will return to Toraja and bring their savings to contribute. Others will ask for a bank loan to finance the event. The ethnicity literally “lives to die.” Here’s all the information you need!
Fancy more content about Rambu Solo’? Find out more here!
Toma Kula’ – “The sick Person”
„Please wake for lunch“, Pairuan addresses the lifeless body of Pong Masak, in indigenous tongue, offering his father a bowl of rice. In Toraja, it’s customary to feed the deceased every day, and to keep the corpse cozily beded in a separate room of the family house until the family can afford a proper funeral. In contrast to common beliefs, Torajans treat their beloved relative as if being sick – not dead. Check out the interview with Pairuan or follow this link to the full story and more images.
Yes, there is more, read the full story and watch more images.
Aluk To Dolo “The way of the ancestors” (spirit belief)
The first Dutch missionaries flocked to Toraja roughly a century ago. No surprise christianity is Toraja’s most prevalent religion, although the spirit belief “Aluk To Dolo” was previously transformed into hinduism to fit the strict religious system of Indonesia. However, most Torajans are officially Jesus-fans and show up well-behaved in church on Sunday, but they’ve found a way to keep their animism and even the cast system alive. To find out more, check out this link.
To Ma’ Pamanta’ – The weatherman
With six months of wet season per year and funeral ceremonies in the range from 50’000 to 500’000 USD, being a weatherman in Toraja is good business. Weathermen get hired to fight the rain with magic and are part of the enduring myths in Toraja like the buffalo-highway for souls or the hunter who buried an abandoned corpse and gets rewarded with luck for a lifetime. Reason enough to arrange a meetup and to find out more about their rituals. Read about my experience here.