These Indonesians unearth their deceased loved ones every few years
Writer May-Ying Lam
It is said that Torajans are people who “live to die.”
For this Indonesian ethnic group, funerals are such extravagant events that they sometimes attract tourists. Families can postpone burials years (and the deceased are considered sick and hosted at home until the funeral) until the family can raise enough money and gather as many relatives as possible. And then it’s a jubilant multiday social event with a parade, dances and animal sacrifices.
Agung Parameswara photographed these funerary practices when he traveled to South Sulawesi province, where the Torajans live. But often, their funeral isn’t the last time the dead are seen.
In August, crypts are opened, coffins are slid back out and bodies delicately unsheathed. This tender ritual is known as Ma’Nene, which is customarily performed every few years. In this practice, which honors the Torajans’ ancestors, corpses are washed and dressed in new outfits. They may be treated to betel nuts and cigarettes, sometimes even taken back to the place where they died. And, finally, they are wrapped in new shrouds and replaced in their freshly repaired coffins.
Parameswara was moved when he saw the family of Yohanes Tampang bring him a new pair of sunglasses, which he loved to wear while he was alive. They touched his body and introduced him to new family members.
These practices are rooted in Aluk To Dolo, or the “way of the ancestors.” Though Torajans are predominately Christian, they still adhere to these ancient traditions.
Parameswara said via email that he felt that witnessing the rituals reminded him about how important connections with family are in a time when people can be self-absorbed. “Death is not a thing that could [separate] the Torajans people [from] their loved ones,” Parameswara said. “Love for the Torajans is eternal.”