The Toraja people are indigenous to the mountains of South Sulawesi, in the country of Indonesia. Apart from being renowned for their wood carvings and ancestral houses with peaked roofs, the Toraja are also known for their bizarre funeral rites and burial sites.
The people hailing from Toraja strongly believe in the concept of afterlife and that the process from death to burial is a long one.
They believe that after the passage of time, the soul gradually makes its way to the afterlife, known as Puya or “the Land of the Souls”
When someone passes away, weeks and sometimes even months pass between death and funeral as all the relatives have to gather from far-flung areas.
During this waiting period, the Toraja do something extremely bizarre to the corpse!
They treat the corpse as a living member, bringing it food, several times a day! The body is dressed, cleaned and groomed regularly.
The corpse is typically washed and mummified with a solution of formaldehyde and water. It isn’t even unusual for guests to thank the dead body for being a gracious host!
These people follow the belief that people aren’t really dead even when they die. They also say that a profound human connection lasts well past death!
After friends and family members are gathered at ceremonial sites called rante, the funeral begins, which can be quite an extravagant affair. The funeral spans over days and has massive feasts and ostentatious displays of wealth.
A common feature at the funeral is the offering of water buffalo and pigs for sacrifice!
The Toraja believe that the more the number of animals sacrificed, the faster is the journey to the afterlife.
After the funeral festivities, the body is prepared for burial. But the body isn’t buried in the ground.
The corpse is placed in a wooden box and interred in a naturally formed cave. In case of babies or small children, the corpses are hung from a cliff with thick ropes until the ropes rot and the coffin drops to the ground, post which it is reattached!
This is because the people believe that the corpse must be placed between Earth and heaven, for the spirit to find its way to the afterlife!
Quite like mummification, the burial caves have all the tools and equipment that the person’s spirit may require in the afterlife, including money!
However, this isn’t the last time their bodies are seen.
Every year, in August, the villagers return to the burial caves, remove the bodies, bathe & groom them and change their clothes! This ritual is known as “The Ceremony of Cleaning Corpses” or Ma’nene.