Rambu Solo: Sulawesi’s Complicated Torajan Funeral Ceremony

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If you’re squeamish or likely to faint at the sight of blood, maybe skip this Vice documentary series about the Torajan funeral ceremony, and laugh at these Americans when they try Thai alcohol, instead.

If you’re still interested, let’s get started! Toraja is a region of Sulawesi, an island of Indonesia. In this three-part series, Vice Indonesia follows correspondent Aria Danaparamita as she observes the ancient, sometimes bizarre, sometimes bloody, traditions of Rambu Solo, the complicated Torajan funeral ceremony.

The Torajans have been practicing Rombu Solo traditions for hundreds of years, and include funeral rites that are regarded as the most complicated in the world.

The ceremonies, celebrations, and burials can last for weeks, depending on the status of the deceased. The cost of this tradition is often so extravagant families must wait weeks, or even months before the ceremonies begin. During this time, families of the deceased consider their loved one to makula, someone who is sick. The body is embalmed during to makula and kept with the family until they can afford a proper send off.

According to Ms Danaparamita, migration and new opportunities for work are changing how Torajans are defining their tradition. During an interview in Part 1, village leader Kalatiku Paembonan explains that people choose to move to Papua, an island to the east of Sulawesi, because the terrain is rough, and the work is difficult. Mr Paembonan boasts, “those who dare teach in remote areas climb mountains and valleys for days, that’s only Torajans.”

It’s these new opportunities and growth that allow more families to celebrate loved ones like royalty. Traditionally a very  large Torajan funeral ceremony would have meant 25 water buffalo being sacrificed; now families are able to afford 100 buffalo. With buffalo prices ranging from US$1,500 to $10,000 each (for rare breeds), a Torajan funeral ceremony can easily cost more than $75,000.

Ms Danaparamita speculates that a growing middle-class is likely to change tradition. As in Part 2, above, it’s clear that Torajans already incorporate outside influences such as Christianity into their traditions. In some areas of Sulawesi, an extensive “death feast” is reserved for high-class or noble families and not just anyone with the means.Check out the three-part series to learn more about the complicated funerary rites of Indonesia’s Toraja.

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