Saturday, November 23, 2013

History mystery:Funeral Custom of Toraja


Funeral Custom of Toraja-1
An ethnic group in the mountainous region of South Sulawesi, Indonesia known as the Toraja has a population of around 650,000 out of which 450,000 live in the regency of Tana Toraja. Majority of the population are Christian while others are Muslim or of local animist beliefs known as aluk or `the way’. Toraja is derived from the Bugis language which means people of the uplands and the Dutch colonial government in 1909 named them Toraja. The Torajans are known for their elaborate funeral rites. Their burial sites are carved into rocky cliffs and their tongkonan are massive peaked roof traditional houses together with colorful wood carvings. Tongkonan meaning `to sit’, comes from the Torajan tongkon word and is their traditional ancestral houses which stand high on wooden piles having layered split bamboo roof which are shaped in sweeping carved arc incised with black, yellow and red carvings on the exterior.

Funeral Custom of Toraja-2
These houses are said to be the center of their social life and the rituals connected with the tongkonan is believed to be of great importance to Torajan’s spiritual life. Hence the family members are expected to participate in these rituals since it is a link between the ancestors, the living and the future generation. The Torojan myth is that the first tongkonan was built in heaven on four poles having a roof made of Indian cloth and when the first Torojan had come to earth he prepared similar houses and performed huge ceremony. They have amazing funeral rites which are social events, normally attended by a huge number of people and last for several days. To divulge deeper into the history of the Torajans, before the 20th century, they lived in autonomous villages and practiced animism and were untouched by the outside world. Towards 1900, Dutch missionaries converted these highlanders to Christianity and when the Tana Toraja regency expanded towards the outside world in the year 1970, it became a target of tourism of Indonesia with many tourism developer and anthropologists making their contributions in exploiting and researching. In the year 1990 this society changed considerably when tourism improved and their social life and customers were outgrown to a larger Christian society. Being a living tradition of the Tana Toraja Traditional Settlement, it is a heritage which has been handed over from one generation to another for around 700 years or maybe even longer during the prehistoric age.

Funeral Custom of Toraja-3
The funeral rituals of the Toraja society, is an expensive event and the richer and powerful an individual is, the more expensive is their funeral. The nobles according to the aluk religion are the only ones who have the right to have a death feast which is extensive and is attended by thousands of people lasting for several days. Rante, a ceremonial site which is prepared on a large green field with shelters for the people together with rice barns and other funeral ceremonial provisions for the deceased family is provided. Besides this, funeral chants, flute music poems and songs together with wailing and crying for the deceased are traditional Toraja expression of sorrow and grief. The ceremonies were often held weeks, months or even years after the death to enable the family of the deceased to raise the necessary funds to cover the expenses for the funeral ceremony. According to the Torajans, they believed that death is not an abrupt and sudden end but a gradual process towards the land of souls or after life also known as `Puya’. The body of the deceased during the waiting period is wrapped in many layers of cloth which is kept under the tongkonam and their belief is that the soul of the deceased lingers around the village till the funeral ceremony has attained completion when it begins its final journey to the land of souls or life after death. Their funeral ceremonies being a sad event also calls for occasion for entire families who gather from different locations of the globe as well as the villagers to take part in communal gatherings resulting in renewing relationships as well as reconfirming their beliefs and traditions set out by their ancestors.

Funeral Custom of Toraja-4
 For the preparation of the funeral ceremony, family members together with the villagers build a tower on a planned ceremonial site and the meat of slaughtered cattle is distributed during the ceremony. At the center, a stake is planted where the sacrificial animal is tied and killed and around the site, temporary shelters like balconies are erected to enable the people to watch the proceedings of the ceremony. The following day, the coffin of the dead person is shifted down from the tongkonan to the rice barn ground and decorated all around the bier. At the onset of the ceremony, a priest or a pastor celebrates a Catholic Mass or a Protestant service for the family members and the public funeral service begins.

Funeral Custom of Toraja-5
This being the most important ceremony, for the deceased, all the family members belonging to various locations join together in order to participate in this ceremony. For the formal procession known as the Ma’pass Tedong, an official day is dedicated, where families, individuals and groups bring along gifts and contributions which range from water buffaloes to pigs, alcoholic drinks and rice which are announced and registered giving rise to donors showing off their gifts by walking around the ceremonial site watched by everyone and getting to know who has given which gift. Moreover this part of the ceremony also confirms one’s status and wealth in society while it also enables the family in helping in the debts unpaid.

Funeral Custom of Toraja-6
Towards evening, the coffin is then brought by hundreds of people to the funeral site and placed on the high house followed by procession and the start of the buffalo fights amidst a lot of betting going on. Their method of burial is of three types wherein the coffin may be laid in a carved stone grave or in a cave, or hung on a cliff containing possession which the deceased may be in need of, in the afterlife. The ritual called Ma’Nene takes place in August each year and the bodies of the deceased are exhumed to be washed and groomed, dressed in new attire and the mummies are then taken around the village.

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