corpse5The old mantra of let the dead rest in peace seems lost on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

For every three years, in a bizarre ritual which dates back hundreds of years, islanders pay respects to deceased relatives by digging them up, cleaning their corpses and dressing them in their favourite clothes.

It may look like a scene from a post apocalyptic zombie movie but for the Torajan people, an ethnic group indigenous to the mountainous region of Tana Toraja, the Ma’nene festival is a celebration of life.

The Ma’nene festival began in the village of Baruppu more than a century ago, photographer Agung Parameswara, who took these haunting pictures, told MailOnline.

The Torajan told him a story of how an animal hunter named Pong Rumasek was hunting in the mountains when he found a corpse abandoned, decaying, under a tree.

Rumasek dressed the corpse in his own clothes and gave him a proper burial, and believed he was blessed with good fortune. The practice was adopted by the Toraja, who believed the spirits would reward them for taking care of the dead.

corpseThe Ma’nene festival, which translates to ‘the Ceremony of Cleaning Corpses’, see the dead exhumed, groomed and dressed in fashionable new clothes.

Their coffins are replaced or fixed while relatives parade them around the village, following a path of straight lines. They believe the paths connect them with Hyang, a spiritual entity with supernatural power that only moves in straight lines, according to experts at Ancient Origins.

The vast majority of the 650,000 Torajan people are Christian or Muslim but a small number still practice ‘Aluk Todolo’, or ‘the Way of the Ancestors’.

The funeral ritual is one of the most important and expensive events for these communities and some Torajans save money their entire lives for a decent burial.

Some funerals are held years after someone died so their family can give them an extravagant send off into the afterlife, known to them as ‘Puya’.

Relatives are known to fall into debt paying for the funeral, which they believe strengthens the bond between the living and the dead.

The funeral, which lasts several days, begins with the slaughter of buffaloes and pigs to ensure a peaceful afterlife for their loved ones.

The animals are put through trials of strength known as ‘tedong silaga’ before they are sacrificed and their horns placed outside the family home. The more horns adorning the property, the higher the status of the deceased.

The body is placed in a large, stone cave on the top of a cliff until the funeral ceremony is completed. It then begins the journey to ‘the land of souls’.

An effigy known as a ‘tau tau’ used to be placed on the balcony of the rock tomb to watch over their remains but so many of them were stolen that families decided to keep them in their homes instead.

They are referred to as ‘a person who is sick’ or ‘the one who is asleep’ because locals do not believe they are truly dead until they have been buried.

corpse2Tojarans are supposed to be buried in the area they spent most of their life or where they died and deviating from this tradition causes tension among families, said author Michaela Budiman in Contemporary Funeral Rituals of Sa’dan Toraja.

She wrote: ‘There are cases when a husband and wife wish to be buried together, a request which is nonetheless interpreted as a breach of loyalty to one’s own family, for such an individual puts the love for his or her partner above the bonds to their own family.

‘It is remarkable that in some cases the families will quarrel where the departed should be buried.  A person buried in the “wrong place” is known as a topusa [lost person].

‘Opening the door to the liang [tomb where they are buried], which would enable the transfer of the departed, could only be performed during the Ma’nene ritual, which paid homage to the ancestors.’

According to Torojan beliefs, the dead person’s soul must return to their home village. If they died on a long journey, the family is supposed to travel to their place of death to accompany the soul back to the village.

corpse3The tribe’s young are placed in the smallest burial grounds known as the ‘Baby Trees’. If a child dies before they have started teething, it is wrapped up in cloth and placed inside a hollowed out space in the trunk of a growing tree. Locals believe that as the child’s soul will become part of the tree as it heals.
Michael Eli Dokosi is a journalist and a formidable writer with a decade's experience. He is a blogger as well who currently owns and manages the news portal The site is a wholesome news platform with entertainment, political, general, sports, negroid and foreign news offerings with the tagline 'More than Straight News' because of its alternate take on issues. The blakkpepper name emerged because the site is Afrocentric and hot. The Managing Editor can be reached via cell line (+233) 0249907425 & (+233) 0262907425 and via email for adverts, enquiries and news coverage invites.