Indonesia. Toraja Funeral (Buffalo Fight)

The Toraja funeral reaches its climax with the fight buffalo, whose strength and courage, they believe, will accompany the deceased to heaven.

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After two hours bumping along the road, the catafalque finally arrives at the place Mayanna’s family have constructed to hold the funeral ceremony.

The most surprising thing is the party atmosphere. It is difficult to imagine, especially for westerners, that we are at a funeral. But this also forms part of the ritual – the families of the dead man and his widow compete over the catafalque to demonstrate the strength of the clan.

With spirits somewhat calmer, the catafalque is taken down to transfer the coffin to the sanctuary.

Once it has been placed inside, with the head pointing west, the funeral can officially begin. From now on, and for five days, the peace of Kete will be broken as never before.

The sound of the gong marks the rhythm of the ceremony and little by little the atmosphere becomes more solemn.

Mayanna’s grandchildren line up to receive the condolences and to thank the guests for their presence. The protocol is very important and many rules have to be respected so that no one feels offended. In the background, the widows remain sitting beside the coffin, cooking food which they offer to the dead man. An invitation to visit the deceased is a real honour and it is considered impolite to say no; if you accept, you will have to ask the dead man for permission to leave, just as if he were still alive.

Each group of guests is preceded by their offerings. This is the perfect time to demonstrate how well you are doing in life, and there are constant exclamations at the number of animals a single individual is capable of giving, or the size of some of the pigs, like this one – it is all ten men can do to get it out of the van.
The quality of the gifts is inspected and duly registered. In the past, they would be simply etched in the memories of the old people, but today every detail is carefully written down.

The most appreciated, without a doubt, are the albino buffalos, which here are called Tedong Bonga and can cost over two hundred thousand pesetas, a fortune if we consider that the average salary of a civil servant is scarcely fifteen thousand pesetas a month.

Funerals are a good occasion to settle certain debts. In Tana Toraja, a gift received now is seen as a debt that must be paid back later. The gifts the deceased’s family receives will have to be repaid in the future by attending other funerals for years to come.

Once the guests have been shown to their places, one of the highlights will begin – the buffalo fight.

The Toraja people are proud to test the bravery of the buffalos, and demonstrate that the deceased will be accompanied to heaven by such powerful and courageous animals.

The second day of the funeral is coming to an end. Mayanna’s family is very happy with the gifts they have received, and it is time to repay the guests for their generosity. The young women hand out honey cakes, tea, coffee, rice and palm wine.

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