With hoards of cultural attractions and outdoor activities, it’s strange how the Sulawesi island of Indonesia doesn’t feature very prominently on travels’ radar. Just as well, as those who venture off the beaten path could have the whole place to themselves.
One of the most riveting and interesting things I’ve seen in Sulawesi was the tombs of the Tana Toraja people. They have a strange obsession with death; not in a morbid or tragic way. For the Tana Toraja people, death is like a big sending off party, done with aplomb. When there’s a death in a family, the whole village will be invited to a feast; where buffaloes, pigs, and goats are slaughtered to feed the whole community. However, in order to do this a lot of money is needed. So the family will borrow money, and save for years to have a proper funeral. This means to the deceased will be embalmed and the coffin stored in the living room of the family until they can afford to pay for a funeral.
After the funeral the coffin will be entombed in a hole cut into the rock face of a cliff. “Tau-tau” – life-size effigies representing the deceased – will be carved and put at the balcony along with the others. The outstretched arms of the “tau-tau” signify protection and blessing, as the Tana Toraja people believe that the dead will look after their descendents. Unfortunately this tradition is dying due to unscrupulous thieves stealing these “tau-tau” to sell it to foreigners. To prevent theft, the people now keep the “tau-tau” in their homes.
I’m captivated by how the Toraja people view death. The extended period between death and the funeral, when the deceased, referred to as “the sick”, stays at home seems like a good way for the living to deal with the death and have a closure. When my grandma passed away, I didn’t even have time to go home for her funeral. Having a longer mourning period, might have given me proper time to deal with my grief rather than just rushing to get it over and done with. In a society where everything has to be instant, even death has become a get-it-over-with situation.
I guess we all deal with death differently. Tana Toraja people’s view of death and how they deal with it is very refreshing. Moreover, the cliff side graves and effigies is a sight to behold, albeit a little morbidly.
Wish you were here,