Published 2021-10-29
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In Indonesia, they pull the dead from their graves, wash them, dress them up and feast!

In Indonesia, on the island of Celebes, locals follow an unusual and frightening tradition. They take their loved ones out of their graves, wash them and change into new clothes, and then celebrate lavishly by celebrating the Ma'nene festival. In some parts of the world, such a ritual would be unthinkable, but on Celebes, the Toraja people cannot imagine forgetting a custom that is over 100 years old. Funeral rites are also celebrated here in an exceptionally solemn manner and can last up to several days. Blood sacrifices are made during them, and coffins are not buried in the ground, but usually hung on the slopes of mountains. Where did such shocking traditions come from on the island? Why are the dead taken out of their coffins? How does the Ma'nene festival, a chilling zombie festival, go?

Funeral traditions from around the world

Not in every part of the world a funeral is an event full of sorrow and tears, during which the funeral procession goes to the place of burial of the deceased. In Tibet, a so-called heavenly funeral is celebrated, and because according to Buddhist beliefs, the human body after death ceases to have any meaning, so it is thrown... to the devouring of vultures. The birds, considered sacred, tear the meat and, according to the belief, this way the deceased gets to heaven. South Korea, on the other hand, enacted a law that requires the remains of a deceased person to be removed from the ground after 60 years to make room for the next deceased. So instead of burial, families opt for cremation and making beads out of the ashes of the deceased to hang around their homes. In India, corpses are burned and thrown into the Ganges, in which the living are also bathed, and some Indian tribes from the Amazon basin literally eat their dead relatives. Unbelievable funeral traditions are also a specialty of the Toraja people of Indonesia, especially since the dead are repeatedly taken out of their coffins after death to celebrate the Ma'nene festival. But why disturb their sacred peace? Read on to find out more!

The dead treated like the living

On the island of Celebes, funeral processions led by zombies are nothing new. In the local Toraja community, tradition dictates that the deceased are buried in their home village, and if they happen to leave this world far away, they must be brought back. Nowadays the procession transporting the deceased moves by car, but in the past, the corpse was put on its feet and supported under its arms, and led to the family home. There the funeral rites could take place. This is not a cheap ceremony and some families have to save for months to bury their loved ones, during which time the body is stored in rooms near the house and preserved with formaldehyde.

Their Beliefs

The Toraja believe that a person becomes dead only after the funeral is celebrated, so while waiting for the ceremony, the deceased are treated as an ordinary household member. Food and drink are served, lit cigarettes are placed in his mouth, and relatives and friends come to "talk" with the corpse. They are dressed in festive clothes and often seated at the front door of the house so that everyone has a chance to see them. When money is finally raised for the funeral, the burial may finally take place.

Indonesian funeral

Hundreds of guests come to funerals and need to be hosted and fed. However, everyone who arrives is required to carry a gift suitable for eating, such as a chicken, pig, or buffalo. Animals are sacrificed in a ritual manner, as it is believed that their blood is given to the gods, and their soul accompanies the deceased on his or her further journey. The wake is an opportunity to dance and have fun, and after its celebration, the funeral procession goes through the streets of the city, during which there is a very joyful atmosphere because the funeral is a real celebration on Celebes. It so happens that the ceremonies last for several days and everything, except the march through the village, is repeated. Only on the last day of the rituals, the deceased is carried to his final resting place.

Hanging coffins

Dead members of the Toraja people are rarely buried in the ground. Since villages are usually located in the mountains, it is in the mountain slopes that caves are forged where the body can be placed. Another way of burial is to hang a wooden coffin on a steep slope or place it on stilts driven into a rock wall. And don't forget the "tau tau," or effigies of the deceased carved in wood, which is placed near the bodies to guard them. The deceased are often visited by their families, who bring him food and drink, and once in a while, they are taken out of their coffin to participate in a shocking zombie festival, which you will read about on the next page...

Ma'nene festival

Before the deceased goes into the coffin, they must be properly prepared. Their body is wrapped in many layers of cloth to prevent rapid and complete decomposition. This method is very important and thanks to it, during the Ma'nene festival, the corpses can be taken out of the grave as their skin is properly preserved. But why does this exhumation take place? Well, according to Toraja beliefs, the dead from the afterlife take care of their loved ones. Therefore, as a thank you, families take care of the bodies, during the festival of the dead celebrated once every few years.

Exhumation of a corpse

The word "Ma'nene" literally translates as "corpse cleaning ceremony". This is why during the festival the deceased are exhumed from their graves and brought to their family home. There the body is carefully washed, hair combed, and changed into new clothes. It is also an opportunity to replace a damaged coffin or repair an old one, depending on the family's finances. The feast of Ma'nene is called a festival because it is held with great solemnity. It is accompanied by great joy at being able to meet the deceased loved one again, and the families also take commemorative photos during the process. The celebration can last up to 5 days, and at the end, the deceased are taken back to the graves.

A 100-year tradition

The tradition of celebrating the festival is believed to have originated on the island of Celebes over 100 years ago. Legend has it that a hunter named Pong Rumasek was hunting in the mountains one day and accidentally came across a decaying corpse lying under a tree. Without thinking long, he dressed the deceased in his own clothes so that he would not end up in the grave in torn rags, and then gave him a proper burial, believing that this would bless him with good fortune. Thus was born the Ma'nene tradition, still practiced by the Toraja tribe, who also believe that the spirits will reward them for taking care of the dead.

A scary tourist attraction

The festival of the dead on the island of Celebes may be frightening, but not for everyone, as the rituals also attract the attention of eager tourists. Travelers from all over the world arrive during the festival and the locals welcome them with open arms. Ma'nene brings a lot of revenue to the region through tourist excursions, but the Toraja are also accused of exploiting ancestral traditions for profit.

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