On our first day in Tana Toraja, our guide Hendrik invited us to visit and participate in a funeral ceremony in some remote part of the Toraja region. It was quite a fascinating and interesting experience and unique in Indonesia. Funeral ceremonies are a huge deal in Toraja culture. The ceremonies can last for over a week and people from all over the area come to pay their respects to the family. And since a few decades, these ceremonies are open for travellers and visitors as well.
After Hendrik introduced us to the grandson of the deceased, who was an elderly man, we were seated among his family in a specially constructed stage for guests. By the way, the deceased person passed away about two years earlier. His body was stored in the main house of the family until the preparations of the ceremony were ready to go. For the people in Toraja it is completely normal to store the body in the house for such a long time. Nowadays formaldehyde is used on the body to get rid of the smell and to preserve the body for a while. You can imagine how in the past this process would have been quite different without the use of modern chemicals.
We were offered drinks and food and we handed over our presents to the hosts. While we were sitting in the guest section and making small talk with the family, many animals such as pigs and buffalos were brought out to the courtyard in preparation of the feast that would happen later that night. On each day of the ceremony, tens of pigs and numerous buffalos would get sacrificed to provide food for the guests. And considering the high prices of these animals, these ceremonies are really expensive. This is another reason why sometimes a ceremony takes so long to arrange, it costs a lot of money.
After lunchtime the body of the deceased was taken from the house and placed in a heavy wooden structure that held the coffin. The many men of the family carried this wooden structure to a nearby hill, while the women preceded the men walking under a red cloak. Buffalos also walked along this group. This all happened in a very festive way with a lot of shouting and cheering and music was playing, while an MC was entertaining the crowd through a microphone. It was really hectic, chaotic, and totally amazing.
When the coffin was brought back to main ceremonial area, it was placed on top of the house accompanied with much cheering, singing, dancing, and partying from the guests. It is hard to imagine, but this funeral was very festive, and quite positive in ambience. We left after this moment, but as I understood the next part of the ceremony was basically a re-telling of the life of the deceased and his family.
All in all, I am very glad to have experienced such a ceremony for once in my life as it showed a completely different culture from mine and other indigenous Indonesian ethnic groups. It is very unique and I would highly recommend visiting a ceremony in Tana Toraja if you can get the chance and if there is one happening.