In Toraja, Indonesia, there’s a unique blend of religions, with a majority of Christians despite the country’s predominantly Muslim population. This diversity brings happiness and tolerance to the region.
Toraja, situated in high altitudes, relies on agriculture like cocoa, coffee, and rice fields for its economy. This agricultural tradition has made Toraja famous for its Death Ritual, which dates back 500 years.
In the past, Torajans used to bury their deceased in rice fields, but over time, this harmed the crops. To address this issue, Torajan leaders believed that the gods disapproved of this practice as it defiled the land. They decided to bury the dead in high places, chiseling holes into hills for coffins. This change led to improved crop yields.
For Torajans, death isn’t the end but a transition to a different form of existence. They embrace it, especially in Pangala, the northern part of Toraja, where they practice Ma’nene, changing the clothes of their ancestors as a way to continue their journey.
In Toraja, funerals are categorized into four distinct groups, each corresponding to the family’s social status.
The fundamental requirement for conducting a funeral is the possession of four buffalo. These buffalo symbolize the means of transporting their departed loved ones to the afterlife. Additionally, it is customary for the family to distribute buffalo meat to villagers or neighbors as a gesture of goodwill following the funeral.
However, impoverished families may lack the means to acquire the requisite four buffalo. In such cases, they resort to an alternative approach: they visit a pig farm and forcefully strike the fence several times, symbolizing the substitution of pigs for buffalo.
In addition to buffalo, various levels of families also offer sacrifices in the form of pigs and dogs, with the quantity increasing in accordance with the family’s social standing, reaching a maximum of 24 animals.
In 2017, during my visit, I witnessed the funerals of a prominent couple in the village. Although they had passed away a month earlier, the funeral ceremony was held on the same day.
Following Toraja traditions, the family members had to engage in discussions to reach a consensus regarding the funeral arrangements.
Prior to the actual funeral, they treated the deceased bodies with the same respect as living individuals, including greetings, morning rituals, and other customary practices.