For most places around the world, it’s understood that the burial of a loved one is the last time that you will physically see them. That is not the case in Toraja in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Every August, the people of Toraja dig up the bodies of their dead relatives. They then clean them, groom them, dress them in new clothes, then walk them through town. The ritual is known as Ma’nene, or The Ceremony of Cleaning Corpses.
To the Toraja people, the ceremonies around death are very important; they hold funerals in a higher esteem than weddings or other life events. The status of a family is marked by the extravagance of their funerals, which can last for months, leading people to save money throughout their lives for the purpose. Even so, funerals are often held weeks, months, or even years after the death so that the family has enough time to save for a proper celebration. During that period, the dead relative is referred to simple as “the one who is asleep”.
During Ma’Nene, corpses are pulled back out of the ground and walked through the town in straight lines from the location of their death. The walking of straight lines is a very important part of the ceremony. According to local beliefs, these lines are connected with Hyang, a spiritual entity who can only move in straight lines. To follow him, the soul of the deceased body must move in the same fashion.
Because the bodies are walked from where the person died, the walk could be long if the person died while far away from their home.
Approximately 650,000 people call Toraja home. Historically, these people lived relatively untouched by the outside world and according to their own belief set. In the early 20th century, Dutch missionaries came to Toraja and converted much of the population to Christianity. Today, most are Christian and many are Muslim, but a minority still retain the local beliefs, which are known as Aluk Todolo, or Way of the Ancestors. However, regardless of the religion, all come together to participate in the ancient customs.
Even the bodies of the young are included.
While the graves are exhumed, any necessary repairs are made to the coffins before placing them back into the ground.
While this may be one of those customs that can initially make even the most stoic person squirm, one can certainly see the deep respect that these people have for their ancestors and loved ones. Don’t expect this ritual to pick up internationally anytime soon, though.