Tana Toraja – Elaborate Funeral Rituals

Toraja, rice field

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In the lush, tropical region of Tana Toraja, Indonesia, the Toraja people make a living cultivating rice, cacao, coffee, and clove. They identify as Christians, but practice animist—the belief that souls and spirits exist. Outsiders are fascinated by the Torajan’s grandiose funerals and burials.

 Tana Toraja, houses

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A funeral for a deceased relative is usually not held soon after the death, as is traditional in Western culture. The body is kept in a Tongkonan (traditional Torajan house) for months, or even years, until the family has saved up enough money for a proper funeral, which can cost thousands of dollars. The relative is only considered “ill” at this time and is often dressed in fresh clothes and served food.

 Tana Toraja, sacrifice, souls

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The pigs squeal and the buffalo moan as they are slaughtered during days-long funerals in Tana Toraja, Indonesia. The gory scene that unfolds during these extravagant funerals is necessary for the soul of the deceased to be carried into the afterlife—the recently released animal souls escort the human soul.

 Tana Toraja, elaborate funeral

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Funerals are public events that are attended by the family, townspeople, and tourists—all paying their respects and many bringing gifts for the deceased to use in the afterlife.

 Tana Toraja, Tau Tau, wood effifacies

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At the close of the ceremony, the body is moved to a small cave, the hollow of a tree, or left in a bamboo home, along with the tools that it may need in the afterlife. Wood sculptures carved to resemble humans are placed near burial grounds to watch over the bodies.

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