Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Counting Down to Hallowe'en: The Death Rites of the Toraja

Tau tau - Toranjan effigies of the dead - on a balcony in Indonesia. 'Tau tau' means 'like a person' or 'little person.' Image Source: Wiki.

The most elaborate funeral rituals in the world occur among the Toraja people of South Sulawesi, Indonesia. The locals have partly converted to Christianity, and partly to Islam. The remainder adhere to a system of polytheistic animism known as Aluk ('the Way' or 'the Law' - a religion of laws and habits); in this tradition, death is central to the culture. Because death rituals were and are so important to this culture, they persist among converts to other religions who have otherwise abandoned Aluk, at least insofar as life-oriented rituals are concerned. Thus, one might have a hybrid religious life: a Christian wedding but a traditional, animist funeral.

Among the Toraja, dying is an epic journey with several stages, starting with an in-between state where the living make the dead walk through all the places they frequented in life. These are complicated funerals which can last for years, because the higher the status of the deceased individual, the more expensive and involved the funeral, including sacrifices of many buffaloes and pigs and the involvement of the entire community in some ceremonies. Family economies revolve around the stages of death, rather than the stages of life. Ancient Origins:
During their lives, the Tarajans work extremely hard to accumulate wealth. But unlike other societies, the Tarajans do not save their money to give themselves a good life, rather they save for a good send off in death. In fact, it is the extravagance of the funeral, not the wedding, which marks a family’s status.
At the second stage after death, the physical presence of the dead person splits in two between the corpse and a doll version of the corpse, called the tau tau; the act of carving is divided into several stages, punctuated by sacrificial offerings:
The tau-tau is fashioned before the second phase of a major mortuary ritual for the dead commences. During the manufacture of the doll, the woodcarver sleeps near (or even under) the house where the deceased lies on view. Actual work on the effigy also takes place in the vicinity of his house, possibly even on the floor of the rice barn opposite the tongkonan. When the image is completed it is placed beside the dead. Just like the deceased, the tau-tau receives food to eat (an offering, indeed, for giving food to the tau-tau is a ritual process). All this occurs before and during the second phase of the ritual, in other words for quite same time, as the time lapse between the first and the second phase of the ritual can be considerable.
Expenses include everything from the required carving and dressing of the tau tau effigy to buying the corpse new clothes and cleaning the body at least every three years, in a ritual called Ma’nene.

Further cruel sacrificial blood-letting (and subsequent meat distribution according to social status to both the corpse and living villagers) which follows is matched by the eerie fact that the body is not buried until the family raises funds to cover vast funeral expenses. Therefore, one may confront a corpse hanging around the house and town until his or her relatives can afford to inter the body:
When a Torajan dies, family members of the deceased are required to hold a series of funeral ceremonies, known as Rambu Soloq, over many days. During this time, the deceased is not buried but is embalmed and stored in a traditional house under the same roof with his or her family. Until the funeral ceremonies are completed, the person is not considered to be truly dead but merely suffering an illness. The dead relative is referred to simple as “a person who is sick” or “the one who is asleep”. Remarkably, this could even last several years after death, depending on how long it takes the family to raise money.
These practices have fueled a counter-surge of funeral tourism among foreigners, fascinated by this grim religious fixation on the liminal stage between life and death.

Walking corpses in Torajan funerals. Image Sources: photobucket, Ancient Origins, Good Funeral Guide, Daily Mail (and here).

The Torajan equivalent of a cemetery is carved into caves in a rock face, where effigies of the dead stand guard over the village of the living. Image Source: Remote Lands.

Torajan gravesite with convincing tau tau death figures. Image Source: Sweet Marias

Tau tau also receive new clothes at each stage of funeral rites. Image Source: Daily Mail.

The Walking Dead in Reality - The Rituals of Toraja. Video Source: Youtube.

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 Image: Spirit Halloween (2011) © Julia Cosmos / Angel-Thanatos at deviantART.

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