Risvan Patale cries for his mummified mummy.
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.
“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