Journey to the afterlife: Indonesia’s Toraja live among the dead

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This photo taken on September 11, 2018 shows a guide holding a light over the remains of bodies interned in a burial cave in Londa in Tana Toraja regency. (AFP)
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This photo taken on September 11, 2018 shows a human skull at the entrance of a burial cave in Londa in Tana Toraja regency. (AFP)
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This photo taken on September 11, 2018 shows the entrance to a burial cave in Londa in Tana Toraja regency, where wooden dolls known as Tau Tau are dressed in Torajan traditional clothes and displayed to represent deceased nobility. (AFP)
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This picture taken on September 12, 2018 shows the people of Toraja carrying a coffin during a funeral ceremony known as "Rambu Solo" in Londa in Tana Toraja regency. (AFP)
Updated 10 November 2018
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Journey to the afterlife: Indonesia’s Toraja live among the dead

  • Traditionally the embalming process involved sour vinegar and tea leaves but these days families usually inject a formaldehyde solution into the corpse
  • The Indonesian government is trying to promote Torajan death rituals as part of ambitious plans to boost tourism across the sprawling Southeast Asian archipelago

LA’BO, Indonesia: Martha Kande’s family lived with her greying, shrivelled corpse at their home in Indonesia for seven months, as they prepared an elaborate funeral that is central to the Toraja people’s centuries-old death rituals.
“We keep the body in a coffin at home,” Meyske Latuihamallo, the 81-year-old woman’s granddaughter, told AFP.
“But it’s kept open before they are buried because we see them as sick so they are brought food and drink every day.”
Torajans — an ethnic group that numbers about a million people on Sulawesi island — have few qualms when it comes to talking with an embalmed corpse, dressing them up, brushing their hair or even taking pictures with a mummified relative.
Traditionally the embalming process involved sour vinegar and tea leaves but these days families usually inject a formaldehyde solution into the corpse.
“After a week, there’s no odour anymore,” local tourist guide Lisa Saba Palloan told AFP.
It may seem a ghoulish practice to some: living side-by-side with an embalmed body for months — or even years — before paying homage in a ritualistic display of blood and guts.
But the Toraja believe that a person is only dead — and their soul freed — after an elaborate funeral known as “Rambu Solo.”

Wild boars howled and blood poured from a sacrificial buffalo’s throat as Kande’s family prepared her mummified body for the afterlife.
Following the five-day ceremony, the octogenarian was placed in one of the many burial caves scattered around the mountainous region, where skeletal remains are arranged by social hierarchy.
They sit alongside wooden dolls in traditional clothing, representing deceased nobility, while some bodies are kept in coffins that hang from steep cliffs — owing to limited space.
“These are the customs of our ancestors,” said Kande’s 72-year-old nephew Johanes Singkali.
“We maintain them to preserve these traditions and keep them sacred from outside influences.”
Although most Torajans are Christian — a product of Dutch colonialism — they have held onto earlier traditions rooted in animiztic beliefs.
The more elaborate a funeral the more likely the person’s spirit will reach the level of the gods.
But it comes at a cost.
As many as 100 buffalo could be slaughtered for a noble person, while as few as eight will suffice for a middle-class Torajan.
Funerals can set a family back up to two billion rupiah ($133,000) — an extravagant amount in a country where more than half the population live on less than $5.50 a day, according to the World Bank.
“We used to be animizts, so we buried people with boars and buffalos to offer the spirits on the way to the afterlife,” Singkali said.
“It costs a lot and there are a lot of preparations while all the relatives living outside Toraja must come too.”

Hundreds gathered in La’Bo village for Kande’s spiritual send-off, along with dozens of picture-snapping tourists.
Her body was put into a red coffin — in the form of a traditional, boat-shaped house — which was then placed in front of her home.
Relatives clad in black dragged dozens of pigs into the center of the village for slaughter as family members danced.
At midday, a prized buffalo was led out onto a blue tarpaulin where its throat was slit — confirming the woman’s death — and the carcass butchered for a big dinner to follow.
Finally Kande’s coffin was carried around the neighborhood in a symbolic goodbye.
It’s not for the squeamish, but American visitor Ellie Eshleman took a philosophical view.
“I am passionate about death,” the 29-year-old said.
“I would like to help restore it to its spiritual place in the Western world. So, I came here to see their death customs and how it can be a time of celebration.”

The Indonesian government is trying to promote Torajan death rituals as part of ambitious plans to boost tourism across the sprawling Southeast Asian archipelago.
While the Toraja region draws tens of thousands of tourists annually, it is a fraction of the millions who descend on holiday hotspot Bali.
Growing Toraja tourism faces several hurdles, although opposition from locals does not appear to be among them.
Rather, poor infrastructure and the absence of a major airport in the highland region make travel difficult.
Furthermore, it is difficult to plan a trip to see a Rambu Solo ceremony because dates can change as families struggle to save enough money for one.
But many visitors are still willing to take a chance and drive for hours from the nearest major airport to see one of the world’s most unique funeral rites.
“Toraja is a piece of heaven on earth,” said Harli Patriatno, North Toraja’s head of culture and tourism.
“Its natural beauty combined with the Toraja people’s spiritualism and funeral rites is extraordinary.”


Bollywood stars Padukone, Singh wed in Italy

Updated 15 November 2018
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Bollywood stars Padukone, Singh wed in Italy

  • The celebrity couple got married in a private ceremony at Lake Como on Wednesday
  • The pair have yet to comment or release pictures from the event which was closed to the media

MUMBAI: Bollywood superstars Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh have tied the knot in Italy, Indian media reported Thursday.
The celebrity couple got married in a private ceremony at Lake Como on Wednesday, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.
The pair have yet to comment or release pictures from the event which was closed to the media.
Padukone is arguably Indian cinema’s biggest female star currently, and she has also broken into Hollywood, starring in “xXx: Return of Xander Cage” opposite Vin Diesel.
Padukone, 32, and Singh 33, announced in a joint statement last month that their wedding would take place on November 14 and 15.
The couple reportedly started dating in 2013 but have kept details of their relationship largely out of the public eye.
Hindi film director Karan Johar, a friend of the couple, tweeted his congratulations.
“Such a stunning gorgeous and beautiful couple!!!! Nazar utar lo! (Keep the evil eye away) !! Badhai ho (Congratulations) !!! Love you both!!! Here’s to a lifetime of love and joy!” he wrote on Wednesday.
The newlyweds have shared the silver screen together, including a controversial Bollywood epic earlier this year that sparked violent protests in northern India.
Padukone played a legendary Hindu queen and Singh a medieval Muslim ruler in the flick, which angered hard-liners, some of whom burned down film sets and made threats toward the two stars.
Indian superstar Priyanka Chopra and American singer Nick Jonas are due to get married in India early next month.