Toraja Tales (3 of 8)

Day 3: A Toraja Funeral

The main event of the day was a grand funeral held in the village of Nanggala. This was the first day of the multi-day event. According to our guide, the first day of Rambu Solo has the most varied and interesting activities going on. The second day would have relatives and visitors coming in, and the next few days would have more buffalos sacrificed. However, it was day number one which visitors who are short of time would want to see.

Rambu Solo

A recap: Check out the first post in this series to better understand the concept of death for the Toraka.

The first day event proper starts off the Rambu Solo ceremony, which is performed to honour and send off the deceased to the afterlife. An important event, because this is the moment when the deceased leaves this world and joins the next. In fact, it is probably the most important event on the calendar. Bigger than weddings and birth celebrations.

As befitting an event of such importance, the guest list is long. Entire villages are housed in the funeral compounds on sheltered raised platforms, covered by the distinct upturned boat-shaped roofs. Family members return home from afar, called back home to pay their last respects.

Welcome to the funeral

We arrived with our guide. The funeral took place on an open field, now surrounded by on three sides by the raised platforms housing guests. Most of the platforms already held guests. One housed all the seated foreigners, all eager beavers with cameras at the ready. I was ushered on one of the platforms to sit with some of the family members of the deceased. Taking out the ten cigarette pack I had brought along as a gift, I handed it over to the most senior looking relative. We were served tea and what seemed to be some sort of sweet fried flour fritters. I looked around.

Floral wreathes hanging on large colourful cardboard signs indicated that there were in fact two deceased. Apparently, the wife had died one year earlier, and while making preparations for the funeral, the husband had also died some three weeks back. Therefore, it made sense to do the double funeral. The family had some well-to-do children who bore the cost of the funeral. It must be expensive to upkeep all the guests for the duration of the funeral. And since guests were not required to contribute any money for the funeral (I did not need to pay anything to attend, rather they were honoured to have guests who had travelled from so far away), all the costs were borned by the deceased’s family.

The atmospheere resembled more like a busy marketplace than a sombre funeral. There was an emcee who was directing the proceedings. Standing prominently in the centre of the field, tethered to a tree, was a distressed looking buffalo who must have suspected that his days are over. More interestingly, a group of similarly dressed people, all wearing blue t-shirts, were standing shoulder to shoulder and holding hands in a tight circle. Their blue shirts were probably sponsored – more costs incurred! These Blue Shirts were chanting and moving in unision, almost hypnoti. They would take turns, one by one, to extol the deeds of the deceased. After one had finished, the whole group would chorus chant, before the next person continued his solo.