Hidden in the dense jungles of Indonesia on the island of Sulawesi, the regency of Tana Toraja is a snapshot of culture from long ago. The area is home to the Toraja ethnic group, who follow the Aluk Toldo belief system. According to the Aluk Toldo religion, death does not separate families from their loved ones; instead, they treat the deceased as if they were alive.
In Torajan culture, people will work to gain incredible wealth in their lifetime, and once they die, that wealth will be used to pay for a spectacular funeral, with animal sacrifices, feasts, and flashy parades. On the eleventh day of the funeral, the bodies will be taken to caves dug into cliff sides and left there until August every year, when the annual ceremony of Ma’Nene occurs to repair tombs (it is also known as the cleaning of the corpses).
During Ma’Nene, mummies are taken out of their tombs and families accompany them as they are walked across the village in straight lines. They follow the trail of the spirit Hyang, who can only walk in a straight line. Unfortunately, the tremendous costs of funerals often put family members into debt just paying for it, which almost put an end to the Aluk Toldo beliefs. But, in an unexpected turn of events, tourists came to Sulawesi to see these ceremonies, boosting the local economy and offering incentive to keep the Toraja traditions alive.
So, for better or worse, Tana Toraja has become the second most visited site in Indonesia (just behind Bali). Instead of western visitors assimilating the local culture, it has kept it alive.
This blog was submitted by Willa Battey, high school student and youth volunteer with Youth Volunteer Corps of Kansas City.