A traditional funeral ceremony in Tembamba

A FUNERAL in Tembamba Title Pic

22nd November 2010

Of all the traditional ceremonies of the Torajan people, the most important is the ‘tomate‘ – ‘funeral’ or literally ‘deceased’. There are many customs surrounding the important traditional funeral ceremonies in Tana Toraja. And I was lucky enough to be in Tana Toraja at the exact time of a very elaborate funeral ceremony of a hifgh caste family in Tembamba. Another day…another adventure!

The idea of a funeral is never exciting. No one wants to think about things like how to buy a headstone or even how to plan a funeral in general, but we all have to think about this one day. The whole idea of planning one is not something that any of us wants to do. With this being said, even if it means doing some research into life insurance policies through sites like policyme.com, this at least shows that you are taking the necessary steps to plan for your future, even if this is not something you want to think about. From choosing a burial urn, the music, to eulogies and readings, there is a lot to think about. With this being said, this is something that has to be done. No one wants to lose a loved one, but unfortunately we will all experience it at one point in our lives. When it comes to planning their funeral, you want to give them the send off they deserve, but not even is able to afford this. This is why life insurance and sites like www.moneyexpert.com are very important. Not only will it cover yourself if anything was to happen, but also your family too. They would then be able to cover the cost of a funeral, after paying off existing medical bills. This is something worth considering.

Torajan’s acually have two funeral ceremonies after a family member dies; the first immediately after death and the second funeral takes place after preparations have been made, this can take up to ten years for the family to save enough money for the elaborate funeral ceremony that can last for up to one week. It is also very important for all family members to be present at the funeral ceremony of a deceased family member thus time is also allowed for all family members, even those that are living overseas, to return home to Tana Toraja for the big event.

A traditional funeral ceremony in Tembamba

When I arrived at Tembamba it was pouring rain, so hundreds of guests for the funeral ceremony had to wait for the rain to stop and the funeral ceremony to begin. The rain was falling steadily for quite some time, but the locals assured me that the procession and the funeral ceremony would go ahead today…they had set the date and all would go to plan!
The funeral ceremony was for an old lady and man – husband and wife – of a high status family in Tembamba, who apparently have many family members living in Australia. It was rumoured that it was going to be one of the biggest funeral ceremonies in a long time…and I was anxious for it all to begin!

Eventually the rain eased…and the funeral procession was about to begin…first came the buffaloes…so many buffaloes…that looked uneasy and robust…they were leading the procession, each by being pulled along on a rope by a minder. There were many black buffaloes but there were also many white buffaloes, which was evidence that the family was very wealthy as the cost of buffaloes is highly expensive in Tana Toraja. The black buffaloes can cost up to five or six million rupiah and the sacred white buffaloes can cost up to two hundred million rupiah each!!! I didn’t count all the buffaloes that passed me but I think there may have been at least forty buffaloes!!!

A FUNERAL Buffalo procession Pic Collage

After the buffaloes, came a lot of people carrying bamboo poles – the number of bamboo poles represents the number of buffaloes. Unfortunately I also didn’t get the opportunity to count the bamboo poles either…there was just too much going on and so many people!

The parade continued with more people each with a role to play; close family members dressed in traditional clothing, more people carrying the ‘tau-tau’ – effigies – these were huge life-sized wooden replica’s of the deceased couple {which locals were shocked at the realness of the faces!}. More people carrying the two modelled minature structures of ‘Tongkonan’ – the traditional houses, which housed the deceased – wrapped up tightly in cloth and placed inside a woven cylinder like a big, long cushion, then more people carrying other modelled structures and then all the people who were attending the funeral ceremony followed behind.

A FUNERAL Procession pic collage2

The whole procession was really overwhelming…it was amazing! It was HUGE!

It was noisy – people were singing, shouting, chanting, stamping their feet, jumping up and down…it was a joyous occasion, people were happy and it was time to celebrate the lives of two loved people with this huge, elaborate ceremony.

A FUNERAL Procession pic 3

I followed behind the procession, along with all the other local people, we had to walk for a long way through the rice fields to the ceremony site. For every funeral ceremony in Tana Toraja, the family makes a make-shift site in the village, with make-shift ‘tongkonan’ and everything! When I finally reached the funeral site after walking through sloshy, slippery mud through the rice fields…I was shocked at the size of the site…it was huge! I had never seen anything like it! There was one big main make-shift ‘tongkonan’ house and then many others built standing in a row behind the main one. There were also more ‘tongkonan’ houses surrounding the field area. I think there was about 13 or 14 make-shift ‘tongkonan’ houses at the site and every single one was full of people…almost overflowing with people! And to think that the whole site with all it’s elaborate ‘tongkonan’ was constructed just for this funeral, and after the funeral, it would all be demolished and pulled apart.

A FUNERAL pic collage

The funeral site had so many things going on – the locals were placing the buffaloes in different places – some buffaloes were led to be slaughtered straight away and others were taken to the field for the big buaffalo fight. Where ever they were led…their destiny was to all be slaughtered, if not today then tomorrow or the next day. The Torajans believe that the souls of the animals should follow their masters to the next life, therefore this represents the importance of the animal sacrifices.

The view in one area was a slaughtered buffalo, skin-bare {what was left of his body} and hanging by a rope from his nose…above it on a make-shift bamboo structure, there were two men slaughtering a pig…after they slaughtered the pigs they would use a gas burner and basically burn the pig til it was black. There were many, many pigs some being slaughtered straight away and others being placed under the make-shift ‘tongkonan’ houses, obviously for slaughtering at a later time. There were also deer, which I imagine would be sacrificied as well but I didn’t want to think about that!

In another area, a large group of men were dismantling the miniature ‘tongkonan’ houses where the deceased were kept…they carried the two bodies upstairs in the main house structure…all the time jumping up and down and singing and chanting very loudly!

Standing on a high balcony of the main house structure was a village elder {I guess you could call him the MC!} talking and literally yelling into a microphone.

The main house overlooked the field for the famous buffalo fight…the buffaloes stood around the field awaiting their fate. I wasn’t hanging around to see the fight {I have seen a buffalo fight at a funeral ceremony in Tana Toraja before}. It had been a really looooooong day…so overwhelming…and I still had a VERY long walk back out of the village.

A FUNERAL pic collage 2

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