Toraja showed us that death is part of life

Getting to Toraja was epic, but it was worth it a thousand times over.  Toraja is located on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia.  We traveled to Torja by the recommendations of a friend from Germany who had been living there for fifteen years in exchange.

The trip took ten hours by car, traveling on a road that was poorly maintained, full of pits, and while on this trip Blas vomited several times, so just imagine that car: the heat, the vomit, the pits on the road, think about it.  But that hot trip that found us full of vomit and overwhelmingly tired had its huge prize when we arrived in Toraja.  Toraja isn't a place where many people choose to go, the way there is long and for that reason there aren't many places for tourists to stay.  However, what people who do go to Toraja look for, I'm sure is not what they'll take along with them.  Artur says that living in Toraja is like living in "Game of Thrones," totally surreal, a place where the deceased are found among the living, and I mean this literally because the deceased are actually in their homes, embalmed and part of the daily lives of the living.  One of their beliefs is that there is no difference between the world of the living and the world of the dead, and they believe that the soul doesn't depart the body the moment the body ceases to live, but they stay among the living for some time.

With Ino, knowing Toraja. On the rock, some graves.

With Ino, knowing Toraja. On the rock, some graves.

Sometimes the dead are taken out of their tombs after several years of having passed away, the living dress them, they prepare their favorite food for them, they talk to them as if they were alive.  I think that if someone told me about this without having been here, I'd think that's crazy, but having seen how they see this and live this way in such a natural way and as such a natural part of their lives, it made us think about the way we experience the idea of death in the Western world.  We were able to understand and most importantly feel that death is part of life and that it shouldn't be be seen as such a drastic experience, and that if the deceased person was someone important in our lives, he or she will surely remain close to us one way or another.  What we liked most was the fact that we were able to show our children that it's ok to talk about death; that it's a natural part of life, that it's something that we will all face at one time or another, and that as painful as that might be to the ones left behind, it becomes a bit easier to accept and realize that whatever the person who died had a mission and what it was, and that it is their time to go.

Ino "friend for ever", behind the typical Toraja constructions.

Ino "friend for ever", behind the typical Toraja constructions.

Their burying ceremonies are a whole new deal, the ceremonies go on for days and if the deceased had relatives that live in far away places, the ceremony is put on hold until they arrive, without regard as to how long it will take them to get there.  The whole town is invited to attend, there are animal sacrifices in which pigs and buffalos are sacrificed and all the attendees are fed. Buffalos are pricey, they can cost $100 US dollars, and people save and buy them during their lifetime to ensure that the people attending their funeral will be fed.  The quantity of the buffalos available at a funeral signify the importance and financial abilities of the deceased.  An albino buffalo as the menu in a funeral is the most expensive meal that can be served and also bares the same significance about the deceased.

Our guide, Ino, showed us this wonderful place, told us about his personal story, showing us the beautiful landscapes and enabled us to assist a funeral ceremony.  The funeral ceremony was one of the most powerful experiences of my life.  Ino became one of those 'forever friends,' as Beni called him, because the kids and Ino became inseparable.  What really made a powerful impression on my heart was a site of a tree where they'd put babies under two years old that had passed away.  Years ago, their infant mortality rate was high and they considered the souls of those babies to be so pure that they'd take them to the site of that tree, they'd place them close to the tree trunk where the babies and the tree would become one, feeding from its trunk and then going up its branches getting high enough for their souls to fly away into the sky with the wind.

Toraja, a place you can't miss to visit.

Camila Lavori