The Soul’s Final Journey: A Funeral in Tana Toraja

Perched at the doorway of his raised house, an old Torajan man stares out at the spectacle below: pigs strapped to bamboo stretchers, buffalo guts lying in the mud. The man’s brother has died, and after months of keeping the embalmed body in the house, it is finally funeral season. After a lifetime on earth, the man’s brother is returning to where all Torajans believe they came from: the stars.

I took a long, queasy bus ride along the edge of Sulawesi to reach the mountains of Tana Toraja, and the cool air is a relief from the usual Indonesian heat. The endless tiers of rice paddies look impossibly alive, the clouds so huge they leap out of the blue sky. But in all this life lurks death: dank caves house countless coffins, and doll-like effigies watch the living from tiny balconies built into the mountainsides.

Villagers dressed in black sit on decks and under canopies, surrounding the scene of the funeral like spectators at a bullfight. Pigs scream as men slit the animals’ throats, packing the guts in bamboo shoots to be cooked. Twenty feet in front of me, though, is the most important sacrifice: three skinned buffalo in a pool of blood.  These buffalo will guide the dead to the afterlife, aid him in his journey towards the land of souls. On earth, his family will feast on the buffalo for days, celebrating the liberation of this man’s soul, reveling in the most important moment of his life.

This post has been entered into the Grantourismo and HomeAway Holiday-Rentals travel blogging competition.



10 Responses to “The Soul’s Final Journey: A Funeral in Tana Toraja”

  1. 1 Ashley Hooker Jons August 1, 2010 at 12:39 am

    great entry! i was going to write about the funeral season in trajaland, but it was too long ago to do it justice. you did it justice. good luck!

  2. 2 jif August 1, 2010 at 9:32 am

    haunting photo graph. fascinating topic. good luck!

  3. 3 Rebecca August 1, 2010 at 11:14 am

    that was really moving and your writing is just as powerful as your photo – good luck!

  4. 4 Globetrooper Lauren August 1, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    Great photo, I’m intrigued by the boys behind the old man too. Good luck

  5. 5 Lola August 1, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    Beautiful evocative piece, Simone. Love it!

  6. 6 lara dunston August 2, 2010 at 2:03 am

    Thanks for your entry, Simone! I would have loved to have seen the wide-shot – gore and all! Best of luck!

  7. 7 simonemarie August 2, 2010 at 2:18 am

    Yes, I do have some great, gory wide-shots, but unfortunately, I can’t get my hands on them again until next week. Will share some then!

  8. 8 littlehousesouthernprairie August 2, 2010 at 11:18 pm

    Great photo. Good luck!

  9. 9 Richard August 18, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    This piece is absolutely beautiful. “reveling in the most important moment of his life” gave me little goosebumps.

  10. 10 neha August 27, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    Haunting and moving. Great writing as always Simone. Good luck!

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About Simone Gorrindo

Simone Gorrindo is a freelance journalist, poet, and travel writer who can't stay put.


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