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Does Indonesia Have The World’s Greatest Ancient Ritual For The Dead?

Culture

Does Indonesia Have The World’s Greatest Ancient Ritual For The Dead?

“You look so beautiful!”

That’s what Yosefina Tumana – a resident of Toraja, South Sulawesi – said to the corpse of her sister-in-law who had been dead for 6 years. Ma’nene – an ancient Torajan ritual – is a time where clans visit the remains of deceased descendants, clean the remains and replenish the coffins with meaningful trinkets.

Unlike other cultures, death is hardly even a good-bye for the Toraja people. They still have a  connection…

Darren Whiteside

The people of Tana Toraja, or “the land of Toraja,” are predominantly Christian. Their traditions, however, rise from animistic beliefs that were around before Christianity even reached Sulawesi.


Darren Whiteside

The deceased are mummified and put in colourful coffins draped in homely ornaments. They can spend several months or even years in their own homes before receiving a funeral and burial.

Darren Whiteside

Death does not mean one escapes the family gossip. Relatives talk to the deceased, offer them food and drink, and involve them in family gatherings, as if they were still alive.

Darren Whiteside

Rambu Solo – a funeral ceremony involving sacrificial pigs and buffaloes – is held once enough money and family members can be gathered. The whole village is usually invited to a feast and celebrate communal ties.

Darren Whiteside

The coffins are painted in bright reds and ochres. Stuffed inside with clothes and personal effects the coffin is placed in narrow tombs carved into monolithic rocks that pepper the mountainous region.


Darren Whiteside

The boulders can be as high as a three-story building and each tomb can take between three to six months to carve.

Darren Whiteside

Renolt Patrian, a 21-year-old Torajan studying to be a mining engineer, believes that keeping the tradition alive for future generations is an important responsibility.

Darren Whiteside

Renolt said after visiting his recently deceased great-grandmother:

“When I have a job and earn money, I will not give up the tradition.”

Darren Whiteside


What is bizarre to some is common sense to others.

What can’t be denied is that the connection that the Toraja have with their family members and ancestors is much stronger than many enjoy today. For example, when did you last speak to a living grandparent, let alone visit the resting place of a relative?

Darren Whiteside

Though the adorable traditions of the Toraja people may be beyond the capacity of most, we could all learn a thing or two from them for staying in contact with the living, and the dead.

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