Indonesian Villagers Dig Up Dead Relatives And Give Them Makeovers During Ma’nene Ceremony

Essel Pratt

Villagers in the Indonesian province of Toraja, located in South Sulawesi, are digging up the bodies of their dead relatives and giving them makeovers as part of the Ma’nene ceremony.

During the Ma’nene ceremony, the villagers exhume their departed family and friends from their graves so that their memories and their love remains alive and well, rather than allowing it to fade away over time. Individuals that are retrieved from their final resting places are washed clean of debris, their hair is groomed, and they receive new clothing during the process, according to the Mirror.

Although grandparents and parents are often the focus of the Ma’nene ceremony, deceased children are also subject to being dug up and provided with a makeover, according to Metro.

In addition to providing makeovers to their dead relatives, the villagers of Toraja also repair damaged coffins before marching their deceased relatives around the village. The entire ritual is meant to stay connected to deceased loved ones and celebrate their existence, even after death.

Torajans believe that death is not a sudden loss of a loved one, but instead another milestone in life. When a family member dies, the Torajans will not typically rush into a burial, but instead tend to the deceased relative for anywhere from a few weeks to a full year. During the time of caring, relatives are contacted, and the deceased is not buried until all relatives are in attendance to celebrate the death.

After a deceased relative is buried, the family will dig them up once a year and perform the Ma’nene celebration as a way of keeping the loved one in their hearts and continue to celebrate their existence on earth. Although the bodies may decompose over time and be nothing more than skeletons, the families wash each relative of any debris that may have collected over time, groom their hair so it is presentable, and adorn their bodies with fancy new clothes that represent who they were in life.

Once they are prepared, the Torajans march their relatives through the village in a parade-like procession, showing off their loved ones and giving them a final tour of the village before burying them again.

For the Torajan villagers, a funeral is the most expensive event throughout their lives. Of the over 1 million members of the population, nearly half of them live in Tana Toraja. For the rich that die, an elaborate feast is held in honor of the dead. Attendees can reach into the thousands, and the death feast can last for upwards a week. For individuals that are not so well off, the deceased may be cared for in their homes after death until the families can raise enough money to perform a proper burial ceremony.

Until the deceased relative is buried, it is believed that his or her soul will roam the village freely before beginning the journey to Puya. As part of the ceremony, a water buffalo is usually sacrificed so that its deceased vessel can carry the family member onward into the afterlife.

When the dead are placed in their coffins, burial occurs in one of three ways. The coffin may be placed in a cave where there is easy access to it, the coffin may be carved into a stone grave where other family members are set to rest, or the coffin may be hung from a cliff by rope. The hanging graves will remain in place until the ropes rot away and eventually the coffin falls to the ground below. Each deceased family member is buried with essentials that he or she will need in the afterlife.

Ma’nene is celebrated every August in honor of the dead.

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