May 22, 2020

People Of Toraja, Indonesia Take Deceased Loved Ones Out Of Graves Once A Year To Celebrate Their Lives

The people of Toraja, Indonesia have a much different perspective on death than the western world. In an effort to remember the dead, these Indonesians bring their ancestors back from the grave for celebration and restoration.

In this picture, a family presents Djim Sambara, who died two years ago when aged 90. Sambara was honourably buried in his military uniform before the family changed his outfit. Photograph: Claudio Sieber

According to a report from Vice.com on the death rituals of the Toraja people, “While for most of us, talking about death is considered a taboo, for the Torajans inhabiting the picturesque mountain setting in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, it’s a lifelong task – since death doesn’t mean a final farewell. Torajans learn from a very young age to bear death and to accept it as part of life. When someone dies, Torajans treat their beloved relatives as if they were sick (Toma Kula). Food, water, even cigarettes are offered to a Toma Kula on a daily basis because they believe its spirit remains near the body and craves for ongoing care.”

The report goes on to say, “The funeral ceremony can last about 3-5 days, and concludes with the deceased finally buried in a mausoleum or stone graves. But it doesn’t end there. The clan gathers every one to three years for the ritual known as Ma’nene, which translates to “care for ancestors.” During this time, the dead will be taken out of their graves again, cleaned, and given new clothes – before being returned to their graves tombs. Relatives come from far away to celebrate this annual get-together where they meet, enjoy a feast, share stories, and honor their loved ones.”

Source: Love Beyond Death: Toraja’s Unique Funeral Rites (Vice.com)

Yuanita takes a selfie with her relative Allo Pongsitammu who passed away roughly 20 years ago. Photograph: Claudio Sieber

This picture shows Ne Duma Tata waiting to return his deceased wife to the mausoleum. Ludia Rante Bua (right) died in 2010. She stands alongside her sister. Photograph: Claudio Sieber

With the bodies having been dutifully cleaned, they are carefully returned to the mausoleum. Photograph: Claudio Sieber

Todeng died in 2009. A young relative of his, Sam, lights him a cigarette and changes his glasses. Photograph: Claudio Sieber

Roughly 50 bodies are being moved from Balle’ graveyard to a new mausoleum. As soon as the traditional coffins are dragged out of the tomb, the relatives put on surgical masks and attend to their loved ones. Photograph: Claudio Sieber

It’s customary for the Torajans to put gifts in the coffin, such as a bracelet or a watch. Others might even bury a diamond with their loved ones. Grave robbery often occurs and some Torajans keep their gifts a secret. Grandpa Ne Pua passed away when he was 85 years old. He has been buried in his favourite suit together with his favourite belongings. Photograph: Claudio Sieber

After the funeral rites of “Rambu Solo”, the deceased are finally buried in tombs. But still they are regularly visited, cleaned and given new clothes in a ritual known as Ma’nene (‘Care of Ancestors’). Datu died 35 years ago. In this picture relatives are removing the insects that covered her. Photograph: Claudio Sieber

In contrast to Western norms, Torajans people, who live in the mountains of Sulawesi in Indonesia, treat their beloved relatives as if they are sick –not dead. In this picture, a grandchild stands next to her deceased grandparents. Yohanis (right), was 77 years old and passed away two weeks ago; his wife Alfrida Tottong Tikupadang (left), was 65 years old and passed away five years ago. In Toraja, it’ is customary to feed the deceased every day and to keep the corpses cozily bedded in a separate room of the family house until the family can afford a proper funeral. Photograph: Claudio Sieber