Torajan funeral

Toraja is both a distinctive ethnic group and a mountainous region of South Sulawesi, Indonesia. To a large extent, Torajans are known for death. Funerals are an important focus of community life, lasting for several days. Depending on a family's social status and the stature of the deceased, they require the slaughter of dozens of pigs and water buffalo, and the construction of a small village of temporary bamboo structures to host hundreds of guests.

Because funerals are astronomically expensive—a prize water buffalo can cost $60,000 US—funerals are delayed for months or even years until the family can afford them. In the meantime, the deceased is embalmed, referred to as "sick," and included in daily household activities in a kind of extended wake that boggles the North American mind.

Paulus Paramma, a Torajan friend of my cousin, Greg, invited us to his family home near Makale, the capital of Tana Toraja Regency. While there we had the opportunity to attend the third of a four-day funeral for the sister of a family friend.

What we did not see were 12 rounds of water buffalo fighting on the first day, the slaughter of buffalo on any given morning, dancing in the evening, or the burial on the final day. What we did witness was preparing and butchering pigs, distributing meat to neighbors and guests and cooking and eating delicious buffalo and pork, all with the backdrop of a stunningly rugged mountain farm.

One of Greg's colleagues at the Center for Religious and Cross-Cultural Studies at Gadjah Mada University delivered this TED Talk about Torajan funerals in 2013.