The culture of the Toraja is unique and combines elements of the Christian faith with far older local customs. Accordingly, the rituals of the Toraja appear very unusual in the eye of the western observer, especially their death cult. When a family member dies, it is believed the soul leaves its body, however it stays in the close vicinity as long as the funeral still has to take place. Until then, the deceased family member is only considered to be ‘sick’ or ‘sleeping’ and remains physically part of the household, often for many years.
The death of a family member entails a whole series of rituals that are binding for the strict-believing Torajas and involve many obligations. In order to prepare for the deceased a pleasant path to heaven, the support of numerous animals, especially water buffalos, is enlisted, which are then sacrificed as part of the funeral ceremony. And even after the funeral, the ancestors continue to be taken care of. Every 4-5 years, they are brought from their resting place to the village, familiarised with all the news and gossip there and finally dressed again before heading back to the rock tomb, over which their soul watches out from their Tau-Taus, the wooden dolls which represent them at the grave-site.
The funeral ceremony is the most complex and expensive ritual in Torajan society, the scale of the event reflecting the social status of the deceased. The person’s wealth and power are directly reflected in the duration and detail of such a ceremony, and the highlights of the ritual can therefore be designed in very different ways.
It is not uncommon to receive hundreds of guests, who have to be looked after and entertained. In stands specially built for this occasion, visitors often take their seats for several days and spend the time -apart from eating and drinking- with watching bull and cock fights offered by the hosts. The traditional sacrifice of the animals only begins once all guests have arrived. Afterwards, quite a few days later, the coffin with the deceased is brought to the prepared rock grave in a solemn procession by the funeral party.