Ris­van Patale cries for his mum­mi­fied mummy.

Asian Geographic - - Front Page - POP­U­LA­TION RE­LI­GIONS

But the preser­va­tion is in­ten­tional. Es­ther Paseru is con­sid­ered a toma kula, a de­ceased per­son who hasn’t yet been buried, ac­cord­ing to the prac­tices of the in­dige­nous peo­ple of In­done­sia’s moun­tain­ous Tana To­raja Re­gency. From a young age, the mem­bers of this com­mu­nity learn to live along­side their dead in a prac­tice known as Aluk To Dolo, or “Way of the Ances­tors”, plac­ing food, water and cig­a­rettes near the bod­ies of late rel­a­tives, whom they treat as merely ill.

For Patale’s mother – who died but three days ago from a heart at­tack – the fam­ily makes the To­ra­jan spe­cialty: pork and rice cooked in bam­boo, prof­fered with fresh flow­ers daily near her with­ered feet.

It may be sev­eral months – or even sev­eral decades – be­fore her body will be buried, for a fu­neral in these moun­tains is quite the spec­ta­cle. In­volv­ing the slaugh­ter of tens – some­times up to hun­dreds – of water buf­falo and the hir­ing of shamans to guide the spir­its of the de­ceased from the vil­lage to heaven, one such pro­duc­tion can cost wealthy fam­i­lies up to half a mil­lion US dol­lars. While they slowly save up, the bones of the dead con­tinue hang­ing out around the tongko­nan, or an­ces­tral house, with the odour of for­ma­lin used to mum­mify the body neu­tralised by dried plants and herbs.

Even af­ter burial, To­ra­jan bod­ies aren’t con­signed to the soil. Ev­ery few years, their well-pre­served bones are taken out of stone graves by rel­a­tives for du­ti­ful pol­ish­ing, then clothed in up­dated fash­ions and care­fully re­turned in a rit­ual known as Ma’nene. Fam­ily mem­bers hold feasts to hon­our the de­parted, shar­ing sto­ries of their loved ones at mass re­u­nions.

650,000

LAN­GUAGE

“Clean­ing the corpses is ba­si­cally like clean­ing a room. It’s a pre­cious event to hon­our our ances­tors and to gather again”

Aus­trone­sian im­mi­grants mi­grate to Su­lawesi and form vil­lages. They move into moun­tain­ous ar­eas to bet­ter pro­tect them­selves dur­ing wars with Mus­lim set­tlers

CLAU­DIO SIEBER is cur­rently wan­der­ing South­east Asia. The emerg­ing pho­to­jour­nal­ist has been fea­tured in over 30 pub­li­ca­tions, in­clud­ing the Newyork­post, Ter­ra­mater,geo and The­guardian. He spe­cialises in record­ing the tra­di­tions and life­styles of var­i­ous Asian cul­tures, and hopes his pho­tos can cre­ate a more un­der­stand­ing and tol­er­ant so­ci­ety.

To watch Clau­dio’s video series on Aluk To Dolo, visit www.asian­geo.com. 1 A tem­po­rary sta­dium is built

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