Land of Toraja is home to an ethnic group that has been thriving in the mountainous region of South Sulawesi for centuries. Despite the majority of the population converted into Christianity in the early 1900s, then decades later agreed to open their doors to the outside world, not even for a moment did the Torajans lose sight of their roots, traditions, and identity. Many of Torajan’s age-old cultural practices were handed down from generation to generation and are still actively celebrated up to this day.
Aluk To Dolo, which translates to “Way of the Ancestors”, is an indigenous faith of Torajans that values life and living things as much as it highly regards death. Instead of a forever goodbye, Torajans embrace death as a completion of one’s time on earth to join their ancestors in another state of being. Departed loved ones were never gone, to begin with, nor forgotten. Thus, rather than driven by grief, Torajan funerals are comparable to a lively celebration, for everyone to take part in. Locals would call it, “Rambu Solo”, where the living and the dead, altogether partake in one lavish and extravagant, yet ancient, death ceremony.
There is a detailed chain of rituals that has to be completed, before sending the deceased to their permanent resting place. Firstly, after wrapping the corpse neatly with a cloth, it is placed in a Torajan coffin. The coffin is typically covered with a bright red colored mantle, that is decorated with silver and or golden colored threads, adorning the red cover with traditional patterns. Finally, a miniature version of the traditional Torajan house, known as Tongkonan, is usually built on top of the coffin. Then, large bamboos are arranged underneath the structure, as a support for carrying the coffin until it reaches the tomb site, which is commonly located in a forest, inside a very large boulder or stone caves. During this parade, you would see family and close relatives carry the structure on their shoulders, surrounded by a mass of people en route to the grave. It is essential, for participants to stay bright spirited during this parade, as it is believed that joyful ambiance would help the spirit during its journey to reach the afterlife. That is why, spectators of the parade may experience a lively climate, with family and relatives sometimes conversing or even cracking jokes at one another.
After the Toraja funeral, buffalo sacrificing ritual is conducted. It is believed that the number of sacrificed buffalos affects the deceased’s journey to the afterlife, therefore there were ceremonies in the past that had families offering dozens, even hundreds of buffalos to be sacrificed. Friends, family and other spectators including tourists then, are each given their share of the buffalo meat as a part of the revelry. During this ceremony, attendees may also enjoy Torajan traditional music and dance performances, celebrating the parting with a feast.
These events and ceremonies are highly anticipated by Torajans, as much as the tourists. Through the rituals that have been conducted since the time of their ancestors, Torajans come together in one grand festivity, giving thanks to the realm of spirit, honoring a great life once lived.