The Blog

Living to Die – Tana Toraja, Sulawesi, Indonesia

Lying in the hilly landscape of South Sulawesi, Tana Toraja is a place where the dead receive a send off that would make the Royal family jealous. Families spend their days preparing for funeral ceremonies, all in hopes that their children will execute a proper send off for them. Funerals take months of preparations. Motorbiking around Toraja we saw huts being built for future ceremonies, pigs carried in the back of motorbikes to their ultimate demise and men proudly washing their giant water buffalo.


Relatives that are meant to be buried together, at times,  have to wait years until their partner-in-death kicks the bucket.  While they wait to be sent off to afterlife the dead stay in the home with their living family requiring the same courtesy as their living relatives from house guests. One of the dead at this funeral had to wait 10 years for his brother to die and warrant the expense of a funeral. Once the funerals begin they may last days. Pigs and buffalo are brought as gifts from the community to be sacrificed by the “mourning” family.  At a medium sized funeral that we attended over a hundred pigs and just over a dozen buffalo were slaughtered over a four day period. All that slaughter is done to guarantee a safe and comfortable passage into afterlife. In fact, before Christianity began to play a major role in the region slaves were also sacrificed at funerals.



This little piggy went…behind the house to be slaughtered.



Assembly line sacrifice. They had to get through a hundred pigs.


We got a chance to attend a funeral while visiting Tana Toraja. It honestly felt like a pig processing plant with people in fancier clothes. The screaming and screeching of pigs is something that I won’t be able to forget. It felt strange and awkward taking pictures at a funeral however each funeral has its own camera crew, MC and DJ so the inappropriate sacrilegious feeling went away pretty quickly. Families and relatives from all over the world come to say their goodbyes. They are made to walk around the grounds of the ceremony while the MC screams loudly into the microphone scaring the bad spirits away and the pigs scream loudly because they know they are about to join the dead guy in the afterlife. The only one who didn’t give a shit about being in the open air slaughterhouse is the buffalo.  They come in with their owner, side stepping the squeeling pigs on the ground completely unaware of their eventual demise. I wonder how the owners feel. They raised it, washed it, fed it, brushed it and worked the rice paddies with it. The buffalo doesn’t have a bad life, nor do the pigs. Even though they are raised with the idea that they should present gifts at a funeral to ensure others will attend yours with the appropriate gifts, it must be hard to say goodbye.




Take that, buffalo head!


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