Jakarta: Death is often a morbid affair. But, for a sect of people in Indonesia, the death of a family member isn’t an abrupt, final, and severing event like in the West. Instead, death is just one step in a long, gradually unfolding process. Every year in the month of August, families of the Torajan community gather to take out the dead bodies of their loved ones from tombs, clean and re-dress them in a ritual honouring the dead.
For the Torajans, death is not something to dread and avoid, but a central part of living that involves honouring the deceased with the utmost care to aid their passage into the afterlife. Death trumps life for them and a funeral is a celebration.
The Protestant Christian Torajan community, in a Muslim-majority Indonesia, preserves the corpse of the dead. It eventually is mummified with a solution of formaldehyde and water.
In an annual ritual known as Ma’nene, Torajan families tidy up the mummified bodies, usually in August.
Relatives who may have been dead for well over a decade are removed from their crypts, cleaned of any bugs, changed into a fresh set of clothes, and wiped and sprayed from head to toe. This provides a chance for the Toraja families to see how well the dead body is holding up; a well-preserved body is seen as a blessing.
More importantly, this ‘second funeral’ gives an opportunity for the younger generations to connect with their ancestors and bond with the family’s lineage. It’s not unusual to see young Torajans share a smoke with their dead great-grandfathers, or take selfies with their mummified grand-grandmothers.