Monday, July 06, 2009

No sudden death in Tana Toraja

It is often said that for Torajans, life is only a preparation to death. This is true, and untrue.

Torajan people have, or had, plenty of ceremonies also celebrating life, and especially fertility. Many of them were deemed not compatible with Christianity, and are no more carried out.

Ceremonies related to death were considered compatible with Christianity, and the Torajans still conduct very elaborate (and costly) funeral rites. Even if funeral rites according to the ‘old’ (animist) religion are much more expensive and time-consuming than a Christian, mostly Protestant funeral, they are still carried out by most families when a relative dies.

A person is not considered dead as long as the funeral rites have not been carried out. The person is only sick and referred to other people as sick. The sick person is kept in the house, food will be placed in front of the corpse, betel will be offered betel, and people will talk with the person.

The relatives will gather in the tongkonan to discuss the funeral. Should Torajan funeral rites be chosen, then it will be very costly. So much so that the funeral might have to wait a couple of years. Relatives and friends have to bring offerings in the form of pig and buffalo sacrifices, and feed and entertain large numbers of guests. Rice paddies or houses might have to be sold. Loans might have to be contracted.
Provisional buildings need to be built for the ceremony, pigs and buffaloes, food, coffee, palm wine to be bought. Once everything is ready, the sick person will be rewrapped in new cloths, and on the last day before the ceremony, the person will be put on the platform of the rice granary facing the tongkonan.

For the first reception day, the sick person will be put on the lakkean, on higher ground so she can watch the festivities given in her honor.
Hundreds, sometimes thousands of guests will then gather along family or relationship lines. After a gong is sounded, warriors will pick up the first group to lead them to the ceremonial ground dancing. Offerings are brought, buffaloes first, then pigs, followed by the rice wine carriers, men, and women (see reception blog). Once all offerings are thoroughly registered (for the family to know exactly what debts have been settled though the offerings and what new debts have emerged, and for the authorities to collect taxes on sacrificed animals, an unsuccessful way of trying to limit the slaughtering), the procession is led to the reception hall. Once the guests are seated, another procession starts, this time mourning relatives of the sick person, all wearing black, and bringing the guests betel, cigarettes, tea and coffee. Once the guests have eaten, they will leave the procession hall, to make place for the next procession. Two reception days may be necessary for a big funeral.

In between, pigs will have been slaughtered at the back of the provisional building, to feed the numerous guests (who themselves will have to bring food for the carriers of the pigs).

Unlike buffaloes, black pigs are more valuable than those of two colors. The pigs are killed with a small knife, their blood is recovered in bamboo pipes, the entrails taken apart for sausages. They are then grilled on the open fire, cut in pieces and distributed.
The slaughtering of the buffaloes will take place on the third or fourth day of the funeral. The buffaloes are standing, and their throat is cut with one sharp cut. Still on the middle of the ceremonial ground, their fur and skin is taken off, and will later be sold for the leather industry in Makassar or Surabaya.
For Tana Toraja's burial grounds follow me....

Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi, May 2009.

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