'You look so beautiful!': Indonesians celebrate the dead in ancient ritual

TORAJA, Indonesia, Sept 29 (Reuters) - Yosefina Tumanan, a resident of the remote Toraja region of Indonesia's island of Sulawesi, was thrilled to see her sister-in-law.

"You look so beautiful!" Tumanan told the skeletal remains of her relative who has been dead for six years.

The scene is part of an ancient Torajan ritual known as "Ma'nene," in which clans visit the tombs of deceased family members, clean their remains and replenish the coffins with personal belongings.

"Even though she's not here physically, we still have a connection," Tumanan told Reuters as several families gathered at Loko'mata, a massive boulder in a misty, rice-terraced valley that houses the remains of dozens of people.

"It's a chance for the whole family to visit and express our love," she said, adding that the ritual was like a family reunion every few years.

12 PHOTOS
Indonesians celebrate the dead in ancient ritual
See Gallery
Indonesians celebrate the dead in ancient ritual
Men use bamboo ladders to open doors to burial chambers cut into a massive boulder of Loko'mata, a traditional Toraja burial site, during an ancient Torajan ritual known as "Ma'nene", near Rantepao, North Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside SEARCH "INDONESIA DEATH" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Traditional Toraja houses are seen in a forest near Rantepao, North Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia, September 13, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside SEARCH "INDONESIA DEATH" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Men lower part of a coffin down from a burial chamber cut into a massive boulder of Loko'mata, a traditional Toraja burial site, during an ancient Torajan ritual known as "Ma'nene", near Rantepao, North Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia, September 14, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside SEARCH "INDONESIA DEATH" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A man fixes a blanket around the mummified body of a relative at Loko'mata, a traditional Toraja burial site, during an ancient Torajan ritual known as "Ma'nene", near Rantepao, North Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia, September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside SEARCH "INDONESIA DEATH" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Mummified remains of a man is seen after his casket was opened by family members at Loko'mata, a traditional Toraja burial site, during an ancient Torajan ritual known as "Ma'nene", near Rantepao, North Toraja, Sulawesi, Indonesia September 14, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside SEARCH "INDONESIA DEATH" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
The coffin of a deceased relative is opened by family members at Loko'mata, a traditional Toraja burial site, during an ancient Torajan ritual known as "Ma'nene", near Rantepao, North Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia, September 14, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside SEARCH "INDONESIA DEATH" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Men remove a coffin from a burial chamber cut into a massive boulder of Loko'mata, a traditional Toraja burial site, during an ancient Torajan ritual known as "Ma'nene", near Rantepao, North Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia, September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside SEARCH "INDONESIA DEATH" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Villagers and family carry the body of Ne' Ponno, an elderly woman who died more than a year ago, during a funeral ceremony, known as 'Rambu Solo', to the deceased's final resting place in a tomb cut out of a large rock in Batu Busa, North Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia, September 13, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside SEARCH "INDONESIA DEATH" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A man stands next to a burial chamber containing the bodies of his relatives at Loko'mata, a traditional Toraja burial site, during an ancient Torajan ritual known as "Ma'nene", near Rantepao, NorthToraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia, September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside SEARCH "INDONESIA DEATH" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Relatives grieve at the coffin containing the body of an elderly woman, Ne' Ponno, who died more than a year ago, during a funeral ceremony, known as 'Rambu Solo', in Batu Busa, North Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia, September 13, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside SEARCH "INDONESIA DEATH" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A visitor sits outside a burial chamber cut into a massive boulder of Loko'mata, a traditional Toraja burial site, during an ancient Torajan ritual known as "Ma'nene", near Rantepao, North Toraja, South Sulawesi, Indonesia, September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside SEARCH "INDONESIA DEATH" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

The people of Tana Toraja, or "the land of Toraja," are mostly Christian, but adhere to old traditions whose roots trace back to animistic beliefs.

This is common in Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim country of 250 million people that is also home to minority groups which espouse Hinduism, Buddhism, and traditional beliefs.

Unlike some other cultures, death is barely a parting for those in Toraja.

The deceased are mummified and housed in ornate, colorful coffins and spend several months or even years in their own homes before receiving a funeral and burial.

Relatives talk to the deceased, offer them food and drink, and involve them in family gatherings, as if they are still alive.

Once sufficient family members can attend and money is available to pay for sacrificial buffaloes and pigs, a funeral ceremony, known as 'Rambu Solo', is held, with the whole village usually invited to a feast celebrating communal ties.

Family members shed tears for their dead as the coffin is carried in a chaotic funeral procession to the burial site.

The coffins - painted in bright reds and ochres - are stuffed with clothes and personal effects and placed in narrow tombs carved into monolithic rocks that pepper the mountainous region.

The boulders can be as high as a three-story building and each tomb can take between three to six months to carve.

Keeping the tradition alive for future generations is an important responsibility, said Renolt Patrian, a 21-year-old studying to be a mining engineer.

"When I have a job and earn money, I will not give up the tradition," he said after visiting his great-grandmother who died last month in the family home.

(Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.