Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.
But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.
This article looks at Torajan funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about the Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania funeral traditions and Muslim funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
Religion and Death Beliefs
The Torajan of South Sulawesi, Indonesia are mostly Christian, but some are Muslim or still practice traditional cultural beliefs. They believe that someone isn’t truly dead until the official burial. However, a Torajan burial may take place weeks, months, or possibly years after the death. They practice the Way of the Ancestors, which gives them time to process and grieve the deceased while honoring them.
During this grieving time, they keep the body at their home. To preserve the body, they mummify it with a formaldehyde and water mixture. Mummifying the body is thought to bring good luck to the deceased’s family.
Everyone treats the deceased with love and respect, as they talk to them and bring them food. They also dress them in their favorite clothing. As mentioned earlier, the family may keep the body at home for weeks, months, or possibly years.
Torajan Funeral Service
Depending on how long the family keeps the body at home, a Torajan funeral may be long after the death. A Torajan funeral is more like a celebration of life with music, singing, funeral chants, prayers, and dancing. Everyone also eats, drinks, and plays games while celebrating and honoring the deceased’s life. To make sure the funeral is successful, they sacrifice water buffalo.
For the burial, the deceased is buried in the mountains, but the specific method varies. Two common burial methods are inside mountain caves, or a stone grave carved in the cliff. These graves take several months to build — another reason why they can keep the body at home for so long.
Instead of caves or stone graves, some people are buried in wooden caskets on the side of cliffs. For children, some families bury them inside tree trunks, as they believe the child becomes a part of the tree.
The second funeral takes place every August to clean the gravesite and the body. They give the deceased clean burial clothing and leave food. They also may walk the body around their village and to their place of death if it’s not far.