Death Culture Among Torajans: Where Death is Not an End

Death Culture among Torajans: Where Death is Part of Life, Not the End of It

To western world death is the end of life, and funerals are the formal goodbyes.

While it is the departure of someone special, it leaves many in grief.

However, there are different ways the death rituals are performed around the world.

Most of them are bound to last only for few days.

But there are parts of the world where death rituals are as scary as it can be, and lengthy, at the same time.

Indonesia’s Torajans have been practicing an interesting but scaring death rituals for a very, very long time.

Death rituals in this section of Indonesia is completely different to how it is around the world.



Death Culture among Torajans: Where Death is Part of Life, Not the End of It

Indonesia resides between Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean in Southeast Asia.

It occupies an area of 1,904,569 sq km, making it the 14th largest country by land area.

Home of more than 17,000 islands, it is the largest island country.

More than 267 million people live in Indonesia, among whom more than 87% are Muslims.


Death Culture among Torajans: Where Death is Part of Life, Not the End of It



Indonesia’s one of mountainous regions, South Sulawesi, is home to the Torajans. They are the indigenous ethnic group of that region.

Their total population is 1.1 million, among whom only 0.6 million people live in South Sulawesi.

Majority of the population follow Christian and some have faith in Muslim.

Torajans still believe that their ancestors didn’t use to live on the earth when it began.

As they say, they migrated to the earth with the help of divine stairways.

The Torajans live in a village famous for distinctive style houses, called tongkonans.

These tall houses with sweeping saddleback roofs and ornate carvings have special meaning in the culture of Torajans.

Significant functions and ceremonies are held in these houses.


The Definition of Death to Torajans

Death Culture among Torajans: Where Death is Part of Life, Not the End of It

Torajans don’t treat death as the end of a life.

That is one aspect that differs them from the rest of the world.

To Torajans, death is just the loss of oxygen.

The death rituals they practice also proves this fascinating sentence.

Rest of the world hurries to vanish the physical presence of a person post his/her death.

Torajans ignore to even call it a dead body. Rather, they expand their love for the body and treat it with even more care.


Sharing Everything with The Dead Body

Death Culture among Torajans: Where Death is Part of Life, Not the End of It

The definition of death to Torajans is not what it is to the rest of the world. To them, it is a part of life but not the end of it.

The dead body in their language is a sick person, makula’ in their dictionary.

They provide them food and water as many times as they do that to the other family members.

This gesture is what they call it love and respect for the makula’.

They preserve the corpse with a solution of formaldehyde and water, which will be mummified at the end.

They also read out the verses of Bible for the corpse, daily.

The corpse is kept with them for weeks and months, and years.

This is because they want to take time to inform all the relatives and to gather enough money to make the funeral very special.


Expensive Funerals

This death ritual in Indonesia isn’t just lengthy but costly as well.

The amount of money to be spent is dependent on the status of the family.

They don’t mind debt for the funeral either.

Onto the second part of the ritual, the family of the dead one invite the whole village.

Called Rambu Solo in their language, the funeral sees the slaughter of a water buffalo or many of them.

The crowds are, furthermore, entertained by dancing, singing, and prayers. T

hey also mourn, and watch the cockfights, which are also the parts of the ritual.

The main purpose of these festivities is the transformation of the dead into souls, as they say. And, it is also said to be done in honor of the dead.


Cliff Serving as Funeral Tombs

A cliff carved into a tomb is their loved one’s resting place.

Sometimes, it could be an ancestral funeral tower.

Not an ordinary one will be trusted to do the carving.

Instead, the person is a specialist ignoring to use any safety gears in order to climb.

The distance of the funeral from the ground could be as far as 100 feet.

The distance is supposed to be even further if the dead belonged to a rich family.

If the dead is a baby not gone through teething, hollowed out portion of a tree is where the coffin is kept.

The funeral is not done yet. They will place a wooden or bamboo effigy (called tau tau) of their loved one on a balcony in front of the tomb.

Some families would like to keep the tau tau at their home.

Indonesia’s South Sulawesi is famous for this fascinating death rituals. The story of this death culture is the primary reason for many visitors stepping into this mountainous region.

While a corpse is a scary scene to most of us, it is a centre of love and respect for the Torajans.

Would you dare to go and be a part of this ritual? We doubt you would.

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About the author

Manoj B.

Always in search of stories, I am addicted to words. The writing enthusiasm in me never faded away; I don't think it will ever do. The pleasure I get from filling even a page of blank paper with words is ineffable. My hand never got tired of directing the pen dancing on a page.