Travels diaries

Sulawesi: The Torajas Land

Sulawesi is not famous only for its magnificent corals and beaches but also for one folk: The Torajas. They live in the South of the island in the Tana Toraja region. Their particularities come from their funerals.

The preparation

Unfortunately, everything begins with a death. The person stays in the house for a few days depending on the family. The victim’s family take care of the body and bring a meal per day or every two days. During this time, the family buys pigs and, at least, one buffalo on the livestock market. The presence of pigs and buffalo are very important, if needed, the family will go into debt to buy them.

Days before the ceremony, the family builds a hearse in the shape of a traditional house and square to pray the deceased. The hearse will stay in the grave with the deceased. Therefore, it has to be as perfect as possible. The squares to pray must be able to accommodate all the guests. For some ceremonies, more than a hundred guests could come, thus these squares have to huge.

The ceremony with the Toraja

1. The Toraja’s rules

First, you have to know that assist to a ceremony without knowing the family or the deceased is not as rude as it could be in our culture. You will be totally accepted and welcome (under some conditions) by the family and friends of the deceased. The Torajas think that the more persons come to the ceremony, the easiest the journey to heaven for the deceased is.

I spoke you about conditions to assist to a ceremony and here they are. The first one is to come with a guide. Generally speaking, the guide will know the family and help you to behave properly and with respect. The ceremony follows a precise plan. It’s easy to misbehave or misunderstand a behavior.

The second condition is to bring an offering to the deceased. The tradition is to bring a kilogram of sugar or rice or a carton of cigarettes.

The last condition, which requires only common sense, is to wear sober colors. It’s better if you avoid bright colors and choose instead of colors like brown, grey or any others dark colors, even if black is not mandatory. Don’t forget you go to a funeral ceremony!

2. The coffin procession

toraja procession

The ceremony starts with the preach speech. During this speech, you will sit in the pray squares. To access them, don’t forget to take off your shoes. This moment might seem long for you, especially if you don’t speak Indonesian. After the prays, everybody, share a traditional Torajas meal. In my case, it was Pa’Piong. It’s meat cooked in bamboo sticks and with rice, of course.

Next, things become more interesting. The coffin is carried with its hearse in the village. The Buffaloes and a hundred people are walking with this procession. During this walk, there is a funny tradition: there many water fights (very many) and people kick each other (gently don’t worry). All of this creates a festive atmosphere and a happy procession.

Once the coffin comes back, everybody prepares themselves to help to drop the coffin in the cabin which is few meters high and looks like a traditional house. The hearse is dismantled and reassembled in the cabin. Meanwhile, the persons who carry the coffin, rock it. To be honest, it looks like their shake it to me first. The aim is to remind the mother movements to calm a baby. When the hearse is reassembled, the coffin goes in the cabin.

3. The sacrifice

[I reassure you, there won’t be picture or video in this part.]

The ceremony ends with the part I liked the less: the buffaloes sacrifice. Like I told you before, the buffalo is very important for the Torajas and the families can sell everything and take debt to buy at least one beast. It’s important for the procession in the village, but also for the sacrifice at the end of the ceremony. When the coffin is settled in the cabin, the family sacrifices one or more buffaloes. The beast is attached and lays down. A man of the deceased’s family comes and kills the beast. The ceremony is over once the beast is dead. The buffalo will be eaten by the family and friends on the days after the ceremony. The Torajas don’t sacrifice animal “just for the show”, they do believe in animistic belief.

4. The funerals

toraja tau tauThe Torajas don’t really bury their deceased. The coffins are stored in caves with their belongings (cigarettes, smartphones, jewels, etc.). It can be one huge family cave or several individuals caves. Sometimes, the individual caves are carved in a cliff or in a huge rock. Usually, a door closes the access and guarantees peace and tranquility. When the family is very rich and noble, they have wooden sculptures which represent them: a tau-tau.

You also find the hearses which look like a traditional Toraja house next to the tomb. The family leaves all the objects which were used during the ceremony.

For the babies

Note: For the Torajas, a baby is a child without teeth.

When a baby died, he isn’t buried in a cave. His coffin in more simple and much smaller. The coffin is attached to a tree. It is a special tree. According to their belief, thanks to this tree, the deceased will merge with the tree and will go in heaven. It is also discouraged to come and see the sacred tree around noon. The sacred tree might curse you.

As you noticed, the Toraja culture is very different from our European culture. Some of their traditions may surprise us. I recommend you to visit the Torajas Land with an open mind and with respect to the local culture.

For those you could assist at one ceremony, what is your impression about it? What surprised you the most?

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