A vast majority of people look at death as the ultimate end, with no escape. Through this article, we will look at the other side, the belief of a small minority of people – the Toraja tribe of Sulawesi, Indonesia. This tribe has some exceptionally unique beliefs and morals about death and everything (or nothing) that follows it. They strongly believe that even after a person biologically dies, their soul still remains around their body. They refer to the person who has died as ‘macula’ translating loosely to sick/immobile. At this point, the person is not considered dead, but, only sick.
As one dies biologically, in this tribe, the body is first dried, and then either put in a coffin or covered in a cloth and carried back to the family. They take care of these “people”, giving them food and water while continuing to visit them. This act is known as ‘Ma’nene’. However, this does not continue for a very long period as the family starts to prepare for a proper funeral. The preparation period, however, may range anywhere from a year to three decades.
The question that now arises is – why? We might think that this ceremonial funeral is very financially- straining, which it is. The ceremonial rites include burying the body around a wooden sculpture of the same person. It is believed that this effigy protects the grave of the deceased. However, before the actual burying starts, the family must slaughter a certain number of animals (which are usually white-hide buffalos) as a sign of tribute and respect. The number depends on various factors such as societal and financial status. This step is one that leads families into generations of crippling debt as they are forced into keeping the ‘macula’ in their homes as they simply lack the financial resources for the funeral. Not performing the animal sacrifice invites society-wide criticism and disrespect as the Toraja highly respect their dead, especially their bodies. This is also shown in the fact that they cremate the bodies of the worst wrongdoers.
There is no clear information on where and how the tradition was created but it is still being done to this day.