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TRUE LIFE STORY: See Indonesian Tribe That Digs Up Their Dead Each Year To Spruce Them Up

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Tradition and ritual – they form part of many important stages of our lives from birth until death, with ceremonies marking both the beginning and end of life. Death – in most cultures – is often seen as a physical end to our time in this world. But on one Indonesian region, that isn’t the case. And the journey from death to burial can be a long one.


Shots of the Toraja Tribe, who live in South Sulawesi in Indonesia, capture villagers sprucing up their relatives in a bid to obtain good fortune.

Images show a family lighting a cigarette hanging inside a corpse’s mouth, dressing skulls in bandanas and taking selfies with the dead bodies.

There are around one million Torajan people in Indonesia, most of whom live in the South Sulawesi region.


They believe that after death the soul remains in the house so the dead are treated to food, clothing, water, cigarettes.

Bodies are kept wrapped in blankets in the room of the house or a ‘tongkonan’ – a traditional Torajan ‘ancestral’ house with a distinctive boat-shaped roof so the rainwater runs off.

The fascinating snaps were captured by freelance photojournalist Hariandi Hafid show the Toraja tribe taking part in the “Manene” ritual – in which family members exhume and clean the bodies of the dead.

Unlike in western cultures, where the body is swiftly removed after death and frequently held a few days later, the tribe often keeps the bodies of their deceased loved ones in the family home for weeks, if not months.


During this time, the corpse will be spoken to in general conversation and a meal brought to the body three or four times a day.

Once a funeral is held – after a suitable period of mourning and reflection – it is often a lavish affair costing exorbitant amounts of money and held over several days.

The Toraja believe that death is just the next step in the soul’s journey through the universe.

“My mother died suddenly, so we aren’t ready yet to let her go,” a Torajan woman, Yohana Palangda, told National Geographic in 2016 of how this helps the grieving process.

“I can’t accept burying her too quickly.”

The ritual is performed during the harvest season around July, August and September and is typically performed every three or four years, depending on the family’s wishes.

During the procession, the traditional elders (Ne ‘Tomina Lumba) will recite prayers in the ancient Toraja language.


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