It was a family reunion, bon voyage party, and happy celebration of the life of a loved one all at the same time. And it is the most important, expensive and elaborate event in the life of a Tana Torajan who leaves this world.
Hundreds of family members, friends, tourists and anyone in the community are welcomed to this happy funeral occasion celebrated by sacrificing dozens of water buffalo and pigs “loaned” for the attendees to eat and take home as gift.
And each guest brings a gift to the event from cigarettes, alcohol, and rice, to water buffalo and pigs.
This big funeral celebration by the Tana Torajan tribe in the mountainous south of Sulawesi Island in the Republic of Indonesia, is a very expensive affair taking years to create and can cost as much as one hundred thousand dollars depending on the wealth of the family.
When a family member dies, the body is embalmed and placed in a beautiful elaborately carved coffin in or under their tongkonan house for up to 5 years until the family can gather enough money to give the deceased a proper send off.
Until the funeral, the deceased is considered “sick” and is given 3 meals a day and regularly bathed and clothed as if alive. Not until the funeral celebration is the deceased considered deceased. The coffin, costing $600-$1200, is made of Uru wood and takes 2 weeks to make. Four colors can be used on a coffin, red signifying blood and bravery, black for simple life and sorrow, while for holiness and yellow for prosperity. The coffin at this funeral was red, white, black and yellow.
The family then begins constructing a rante or funeral set, from scratch around the family’s massive peaked boat-like houses called tongkonan or on a vacant field. Wood bleachers complete with roof are built around the main area so that hundreds of guests can observe and participate in the ceremonies. Traditional Torajan symbolic fabric is used to decorate and wrap each structure. But seats are not provided in these bleachers, leaving all guests to sit on the floor. A ceremonial tower is built at the site where the body is placed during the ceremonies.
After everything is built and enough money is collected, the funeral starts with a pastor conducting a service for the family and then the public ceremony begins. Most people smoke non-stop during the event and drink and eat snacks, buffalo and pig meat. Music, chants, songs and crying are the traditional signs of sorrow and grief displayed at this happy celebration.
The coffin is then removed from the tongkonan house and carried around and around the rante ceremonial site to the beat of a gong so all can bid farewell to the deceased for the last time in this world. Ten men carrying the coffin then must lift it up to the second floor of the lakkian tower via a “ladder” constructed just for that purpose. After considerable effort, the men get the deceased in his place of honor for the Rambu Solo funeral ceremony that is to follow.
If the deceased is wealthy, sacred water buffalo and cock fights are held in the rante and guests enjoy placing bets for their favorite animal. And singing and dancing follows. And 3 different trees are placed in the rante to honor the deceased. Then, a stake is hammered into the ground and a water buffalo is brought into the rante and tied to the stake. Its throat is cut, blood gushes out and the animal swings around and around and finally falls and dies on the ground that is covered with blood.
The goal of this funeral celebration is to be the best, most expensive and elaborate party ever held and it lasts for 3 days or for weeks depending on the status and wealth of the deceased. The number of water buffalo slaughtered at this status celebration can be in the hundreds for the Torajan are Christians with ancient animistic beliefs for funerals. The Torajan believe the decease’s soul and the soul of the water buffalo must accompany each other to heaven.
After being sacrificed, the many buffalo heads are placed in a line awaiting the deceased soul so that all can go to heaven together. It is called aluk or the way of the ancestors.
Spiritual life is very important to the Torajan because it connects their ancestors, current living and future generations. Buffalo horns are then placed on the front of the tongkonan houses to show wealth generation after generation. Since the tongkonan house is never sold, it serves as the family home forever.
Each family brings a water buffalo as a gift that is a “loan” or “debt” of the giving family and it is recorded by the government. Each buffalo costs about $5000 US Dollars and if the buffalo has spots all over, it costs about $7000. Then, the “loan or debt” is repaid by the deceased’s family at each of the families funerals that gifted a buffalo. The buffalo giving never ends and the debt is never paid off. And since so many funerals exist and so many water buffalo are being sacrificed, most water buffalo in Sulawesi now are imported.
So for centuries the way of the ancestors continues and hundreds come to an elaborate bon voyage party to help the deceased pass into the afterlife. And water buffalo giving and sacrificing will never end as it is the only way a deceased Tana Torajan in Sulawesi, Indonesia can pass from this world into another.
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