Indonesia is an exceptional country, famous for its beauty, wildlife, diversity and geography. It is easy to see a recurring trend in its allure; many of the aspects that make Indonesia so special are largely due to their sheer size.
It is well known in fact that Indonesia is the biggest archipelagos of the World, comprised of over 17,500 islands. It is also home to the biggest lizard in the World, the Komodo dragon, three metres and over 70 kg of flesh, the living proof of the outstanding force of nature. It is home to the Rafflesia, the biggest flower in the world, extending over a metre in diameter and weighing around 10kg.
It is also known for its lands, and holds within its borders some of the most sought after destinations of the World, such as Bali, Yogyakarta, Borobudur and Raja Ampat.
It is clear that there are endless possibilities in Indonesia, and that it would take countless journeys and stories to try to explore and understand them all.
There is however, one gem – perhaps not the largest or well known of all, but surely the rarest and most particular – that truly marks its unique stamp on both the archipelagos, and the World. This print is that of the Toraja people, an indigenous group that live in South Sulawesi, a province found in the southern peninsula of Sulawesi. What marks these people as so unique is not so much their lifestyle or their day to day customs, but rather their elaborate and intricate approach to the end of their mortal lives. The most celebrated aspect of a Torajans lifetime is, in fact, their death.
Many civilisations usually focus all of their resources and attentions on celebrations of marriage, growth and becoming. The Torajans however, do that with their own funerals. Funerals are seen as the most spectacular celebrations of life, and are not a time of mourning but rather a time of rejoicing; they are not a time to deal with hastily, but one to savour intensely, to be precise, over the course of nearly a fortnight. The whole funeral ritual is spread over 11 days, and only on that final day will the body actually be buried, and his soul free to venture towards the ‘land of the souls’. Because of this, the Torajans believe that a person is only dead when the final day of the ritual has been completed, and therefore a person is not truly deceased before that time. Only when his soul will have left the earthly lands will the person be truly passed. What is truly extraordinary is the dedication shown towards the organisation and completion of these celebrations, and the time it takes to organise a proper ritual.
The actual funeral can in fact be held weeks, months or even years after the person has drawn his final breath; the only measure of time to follow is that needed for the family to collect all of the resources necessary to create the most spectacular of celebrations. During this time, a person is never referred to as dead, but rather as ‘sick’, or more simply, ‘as the one who sleeps’.
As this shall be the biggest and most costly celebration they will ever encounter, most of their lifetime achievements and economical possessions are all gained and sought after in light of the dawning of their time on Earth. Funerals are also an occasion in which a family can showcase and assert its social standing, meaning the rituals will always strive to be the most complex and extravagant yet.
Although this may be a foreign concept to most, it is one of deep meaning and pure joy. It is the total acceptance of a life’s cycle, the utmost showcase of respect to a person’s beginning and end on Earth.
There would be so many more aspects of these rituals to explore, so many more ways of celebration to discover. But the important thing to note, is that these celebrations, even though quite specific, hold a very profound and borderless Indonesian truth.
Indonesia is a country that lives every aspect of its lands, wildlife and life to its fullest. It celebrates its differences and the various traits that make up who it is as a whole. Indonesia is an infinite braid made out of infinite different beads, a rope that is so entwined it cannot be torn.
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