Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Torajans of Sulawesi live to die

After decades of planning for their funerals, the dead wait months, even years, for their last rites while relatives negotiate arrangements for the perfect send-off.

The last king of Toraja was 93 when he took his final breath in July 2003. Five years later, he's still part of the family, quietly residing in a small room in his former palace, shaded by two red parasols decorated with colored beads and gold fringe.

By Torajan tradition, he isn't really dead. He's just sick. The late monarch won't be gone for good until he has been laid to rest with traditional rites featuring the slaughter of scores of water buffaloes, at least one of them a rare spotted specimen.

The unhurried passage from this world to the next isn't reserved for former rulers. It is central to the culture of Torajans, an ethnic group in southern Sulawesi island whose customs are a hybrid of ancient tribal traditions and Protestant Christianity.

The dead wait months, even years, for their last rites while relatives negotiate funeral arrangements, everything from the right timing to allow mourners to travel long distances, to where they will stay and who will feed them.

In many ways, Torajans spend a lifetime preparing for their demise, saving for the essentials, such as their burial clothes and bamboo shelters for guests. They also have to budget for funeral donations to other families, while pampering and fattening up water buffaloes for sacrifice.

"Torajans," Sambolinggi, 56, said cheerfully, "they live to die."

Full article by Paul Watson, Los Angeles Times


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