These Indonesians unearth their deceased loved ones every few years

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People lift the coffin of Liling Saalino to a stone grave, or Liang, during a burial ritual, or Rambu Solo ceremony, in Lemo village, Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia. During the procession, people chat “Tau Tae Sengke,” which means nobody should be angry.

People lift the coffin of Liling Saalino to a stone grave, or Liang, during a burial ritual, or Rambu Solo ceremony, in Lemo village, Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia. During the procession, people chat “Tau Tae Sengke,” which means nobody should be angry.

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.

People carry the coffin of Liling Saalino as a part of the Rambu Solo ceremony. When a person dies, pigs, chickens and buffalo are sacrificed, as the locals believe that the animals carry the soul of the deceased into heaven. The number and type of animals killed reflect the social status of the dead person.

People carry the coffin of Liling Saalino as a part of the Rambu Solo ceremony. When a person dies, pigs, chickens and buffalo are sacrificed, as the locals believe that the animals carry the soul of the deceased into heaven. The number and type of animals killed reflect the social status of the dead person.

The burial ritual for Liling Saalino.

The burial ritual for Liling Saalino.

Villagers and relatives gather as they prepare for a parade during the Rambu Solo of V.T. Sarangullo in La’Bo village, Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia. After the animals are killed, a feast is thrown and the body of the deceased placed in a stone grave, or Liang.

Villagers and relatives gather as they prepare for a parade during the Rambu Solo of V.T. Sarangullo in La’Bo village, Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia. After the animals are killed, a feast is thrown and the body of the deceased placed in a stone grave, or Liang.

Men gather during a buffalo fight, or Tedong Silaga, as a part of the Rambu Solo for V.T. Sarangullo in La’Bo village, Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Men gather during a buffalo fight, or Tedong Silaga, as a part of the Rambu Solo for V.T. Sarangullo in La’Bo village, Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Men gather to perform a Ma’Badong dance during the Rambu Solo of V.T. Sarangullo.

Men gather to perform a Ma’Badong dance during the Rambu Solo of V.T. Sarangullo.

Men remove a corpse from inside a Liang as they prepare to perform Ma’Nene in Pongko Village, Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia. In Ma’Nene, bodies of the deceased are exhumed to be washed, groomed and dressed in new clothes. Damaged coffins are fixed or replaced.

Men remove a corpse from inside a Liang as they prepare to perform Ma’Nene in Pongko Village, Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia. In Ma’Nene, bodies of the deceased are exhumed to be washed, groomed and dressed in new clothes. Damaged coffins are fixed or replaced.

A man holds the corpse of Tang Diasik, who died six years ago, as he dries the corpse during the Ma’Nene ritual in Ba’Tan village, Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia.

A man holds the corpse of Tang Diasik, who died six years ago, as he dries the corpse during the Ma’Nene ritual in Ba’Tan village, Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia.

A woman cries in front of the corpse of Marta Ratte Limbong during the Ma’Nene ritual in Ba’Tan Village, Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Locals believe dead family members are still with them, even if they died hundreds of years ago.

A woman cries in front of the corpse of Marta Ratte Limbong during the Ma’Nene ritual in Ba’Tan Village, Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Locals believe dead family members are still with them, even if they died hundreds of years ago.

Personal belongings of Marta Ratte Limbong inside the coffin including money, a necklace and two gold bracelets.

Personal belongings of Marta Ratte Limbong inside the coffin including money, a necklace and two gold bracelets.

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.”

Villagers pray before they perform the Ma’Nene ritual in Barrupu village, Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Villagers pray before they perform the Ma’Nene ritual in Barrupu village, Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia.

The Liang with Tau-Tau, or effigies made of wood in Lemo Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia. These life-size representations of the dead were once produced only for the wealthy. They are guardians of the tombs and protectors of the living.

The Liang with Tau-Tau, or effigies made of wood in Lemo Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia. These life-size representations of the dead were once produced only for the wealthy. They are guardians of the tombs and protectors of the living.

A boy lights incense in front of Lucas Payung’s body before the Ma’Nene ritual in Barrupu Village, Toraja, South Sulawesi.

A boy lights incense in front of Lucas Payung’s body before the Ma’Nene ritual in Barrupu Village, Toraja, South Sulawesi.

Relatives cry as the coffin containing the bodies of Tikurara, Dumak and Limbongbuak arrived at the Liang in Barrupu village, Toraja. The corpses were buried in Makassar a few years ago; this year, the family decided to move the bodies to the stone grave in their hometown. But first, the family performed the Ma’Nene ritual.

Relatives cry as the coffin containing the bodies of Tikurara, Dumak and Limbongbuak arrived at the Liang in Barrupu village, Toraja. The corpses were buried in Makassar a few years ago; this year, the family decided to move the bodies to the stone grave in their hometown. But first, the family performed the Ma’Nene ritual.

A landscape in Toraja.

A landscape in Toraja.

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