In this documentary we travel to Indonesia, the Sulawesi island, there we know the Toraja and Bajau, two ethnic groups who have a very particular culture and traditions. There, we attended a Toraja funeral, an event that they have become an amazing ritual of several days. We dive into the wonderful world that lies behind the coral reef that runs through large part of the Indonesian archipelago. And finally we boarded on the Bajau houseboats who live in even closer contact with the sea. In fact, they could not conceive of life without it.
It’s been three months since Mayanna died, and finally everything is ready for the funeral ceremony. During this time, the body has been preserved, having been injected with a concoction made from special flowers and grasses. On occasions, they preserve the body for up to twenty years, until the family has been able to raise the money needed for the burial.
Officially, the funeral cannot begin until the coffin leaves the family home and is placed in a small sanctuary on the “rante”, the terrace where the ceremony will take place.
Once the coffin has been carried in and placed on the catafalque, it begins its journey through the jungle, preceded by the women closest to the deceased, who hold a long red cloth as a symbol of the road that must be followed in order to reach “puya”, heaven.
This short journey to the “rante” is also the occasion for the neighbours who have not been invited to the burial to express their condolences to the family of the deceased.
Meanwhile, Batto, the carpenter of Kete, is hurrying to complete a sculpture of the deceased Mayanna.
These figures are called tau tau, and are a symbol of the Toraja culture. They are life-size, and though traditionally they only depicted the gender of the person, now they try to make them resemble the deceased.
The tau tau are paid for by the entire community in appreciation of the generosity of the deceased, and are almost exclusively the privilege of the upper classes.
In the rock crevices around the region of Tana Toraja, dozens of these human figures stare out from their wooden balconies on the cliff face, watching over the spirits. The figures are dressed and decorated with clothes and jewellery which belonged to the deceased, and even on occasions, the wigs are made from their real hair. It is a relatively recent custom, which began in the nineteenth century, and the type of wood used is indicative of the social position of the dead person.
But after so many years of funerals, there remain few rocks and escarpments in which to bury the bodies, and though the aim is that the family should remain united even after death, the lack of space means coffins often have to be placed in bamboo structures in the open air. In time, the wood has rotted, converting these sacred rocks into macabre, sinister places.
Children who die before their teeth appear are buried in the trunks of these trees, because for the Toraja they still belong to mother nature, and as such should remain with her. The soul will travel to heaven up the trunk.
In the sacred rocks of Rantepao, the workers excavate new spaces in which to bury Mayanna alongside his ancestors.
Here, there are no mechanical excavators or pneumatic drills, everything is done with hammer blows, so the construction of a family pantheon can take several months, determining the date on which the funeral can be held. The Toraja prefer to hold the ceremony during the dry season, that is, between June and September, which is when they have most time, as the rice fields require very little care.
For this work, Mayanna’s family will have to pay five buffalos. On the island of Sulawesi it is customary to use these animals as currency.