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In some cultures death is a celebration of a new period of life, in others it’s the worst that could ever happened. Toraja in Indonesia got it’s own absolutely unique way to interact with the dead relatives and today i explored this part of culture in Indonesia.
Traditionally death in Toraja is not a happy affair and it takes a lot of time to prepare everything to say good buy to the loved one’s. Sometimes when the family is not very rich, it takes several months to collect the money and prepare for the rituals. Till that time they keep the body at home and use formaline to preserve it.
In Toraja noone is buried in graves. The land on the island is made for food and considered to be holy. That’s why they want to keep it clean. Still they need a place where to put the body. Caves, rocks or special house, kind of family mausoleum, are used as a graves in Toraja. The most unique ritual happens every 3 years: they open the graves and change the clothes on the remains. This is considered as a way to take care about their relatives and loved ones.
I was extremely lucky and had very rare opportunity to witness this ritual.
We arrived to the remote location in Toraja to the family grave located inside the large stone. When we arrived they already started the ritual: coffins were on the ground, opened and the process of identification was in progress. All this could sound very scary, but surprisingly it doen’t feel this way. It feels like a family affair. Like you meet the loved ones and happy and excited to see them.
There was a woman standing right next to me and one of the bodies was the body of her husband, who passed away 12 years ago. She wasn’t visually upset or kind of it, though she told me with signs that she don’t want to came closer or touch anything. She showed me parts of the hat they took from the coffin. Noone was crying, it was more like discussion. Main job was done by 2 mans, members of the family. This time all the remains were mostly bones, but sometimes there are mummies inside the coffins.
We spend around 20 minutes with the family and i was so lucky that they gave us that unique opportunity to witness extremely unique affair. I was extremely touched. Can you imagine: they are visiting and taking care about their relatives, who has dead 10, 20, 30 years ago. They are making sure that they got good clothes even after death and literally don’t say final goodbye to them. Those who have passed away still was part of their family and life. I was almost crying while i was there as it’s definitely very special and intimate ritual.
Our second stop was the most famous place in Toraja – Londa cave. It’s a cave with coffins inside and outside of it. Some coffins were suspended to protect them, some were located near the entrance, some bones and skulls were spread out around. Probably the most creepy opened part of the cave was the balcony with several dozens of dolls. These dolls were made from the wood as a symbol that 24 bulls were sacrificed in honour of the dead person.
We went inside the cave and though there were 10 of us, this time it was scary for me. At some point i felt that i’m entering the grave, which is basically what i was doing. There were some closed coffins, but some of them were opened. Some bones were literally lying on the floor mixed with some old fabrics. That was, probably the most scary for me. Never i saw something like this before. In closed and relatively dark place it was quiet creepy. I literally was afraid to touch the walls, because there were skulls and bones here and there.
Some of the remains got stories behind them. There was one opened coffin with the remains and lots of cigarettes inside. That person loved to smoke when he was alive and many visitors leave him cigarettes as little gifts. 2 skulls were lying together. This were a girl and boy, who loved each other, but their parents were against it, so they killed themselves. We all know simular story.
Londa cave is relatively famous around the world, but still not many people visit it. It’s possible to visit the cave by yourself, but keep in mind that it’s better to have a guide and light there as it’s literally a grave and not a tourist attraction. Was it scary? Yes! Was it worth seeing! Definitely yes, very bold emotions.
Check this article about the Londa cave in Indonesia to learn more about it.
Visiting this kind of places is definitely super interesting and unique experience, but not for everyone. If it feels a bit too much for you, it’s still worth visiting Toraja and Sulawesi island. Check this post of my travel buddy Nastasia to learn what else you can do in Toraja.
Without no means Toraja is absolutely unique place worth visiting. Even though Toraja is relatively remote, but the opportunity to see what they got is absolutely worth the efforts.