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The Ceremony of Cleaning Corpses By The Indonesian Torajan

By Chinelo Eze
21 February 2022   |   2:37 pm
Culture is one of the foundations of humanity that helps a society thrive. Culture varies from one part of the world to another and from one society to another. With culture it is a case of one man’s meat being another man’s poison, simply put what applies to one society will probably be absurd or…

Culture is one of the foundations of humanity that helps a society thrive. Culture varies from one part of the world to another and from one society to another. With culture it is a case of one man’s meat being another man’s poison, simply put what applies to one society will probably be absurd or a taboo to another. Thus the Ma’nene practise by the toraja people of Indonesia done every 3 years in honour of the dead becomes the line of thought.

The Tana Toraja (Land of Toraja) is habited by an indigenous ethnic group residing in the mountains of Salawesi in Indonesia. The toraja people are quite distinct for their traditional culture of cleaning corpses. Called Ma’nene festival (the ceremony of cleaning corpses), this culture entails that the toraja people dig up the body of a dead relative and then clean them, leave the body to dry, then the bodies are nicely dressed. This culture goes on with family members saving up money for a decent burial ceremony because it is an important aspect for torajan people of Indonesia.

In other cases, the bodies of recently deceased are kept in the home and preserved by family members pending when they are financially equipped to perform a proper funeral. The Torajans believe that during the wait period, the spirit lingers and only finds rest in Puya (land of the spirits) when a funeral ceremony takes place.

This might seem hard to take in but the age old practise of over hundreds of years is believed to have come from the mythical tale of a hunter named Pong Rumasek who was walking in the mountains and found a dead body in the torojan mountains. the hunter then cares for the body and dresses it with his own clothes, this act supposedly brought him good fortunes.

And that is how the practices have lived on, however the intention behind the strange practise is to bond with the dead. This Ma’nene tradition may seem like doing the weekend cleanup, but this time it is for the dead. As much as the corpses are dressed up, the coffins are changed and in the ritual, the bodies are paraded round the community where they once lived following a straight path.  The straight path symbolically means that they can spiritually connect to Hyang which a spiritual is being believed to move in straight lines even though there are other religious practices but with a minute sect still practising the way of the ancestors ‘AlukTodolo’.

Even though the practice is as odd as it may seem it is only a more extended version of death memorials that many societies practice.

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