Weird History The Indonesian Islanders That Dig Up The Dead And Put On A Corpse Fashion Show  

Rachel Souerbry
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On a remote Indonesian island, there is an event that takes place every few years called the Ma'nene Festival, which is also known as the cleaning of the corpses. The festival is held by the Toraja people and is a celebration of both the death and the life that brings families closer together. The families remove the mummified corpses of their ancestors from their crypts and literally clean them up, dressing them in nice new clothes and parading them around town.

The Toraja people have a very unique outlook when it comes to death. While Westerners shy away from dead bodies and are reluctant to look death in the face, the Torajans take it head on and celebrate it. For them, funerals are a celebration of souls reuniting with the spirit world. They're a time for showing respect, coming together, and partying, with the Ma'nene festival acting as a second funeral years later. As a reporter for National Geographic put it: "Here, death trumps life."

Some People Still Follow The Way Of The Ancestors, Which Is How This Tradition Persists


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Before the 20th century – and the missionaries that came with it – the Toraja people mainly practiced animism. Animism means giving spiritual essence to inanimate objects, plants, and animals, seeing everything as having a spirit of some kind. Although many of them are now either Christians or Muslims, a small percentage still practice the "way of the ancestors." No matter which religion they practice, the Torajans still come together for ceremonies like funerals, which are almost always done in the traditional style. 

Your Age And Status Determined Your Funeral Type


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Photo: National Geographic/Youtube

Among the Torajan people, the traditions surrounding funerals are very complex. Funerals consist of varying lengths, which depend on the social status of the individual that passed away. Time frames range from a few hours to over a week, with the longer and more elaborate and expensive ceremonies being for the highest-ranking members of society. All funerals involve sacrifices, from just a single egg all the way up to over 20 buffalos and hundreds of pigs for just one person.

Individuals Save Up Their Whole Lives For A Decent Burial


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Photo: Arian Zwegers/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Because elaborate funerals are only for the highest members of society, having a big fancy ceremony is a way for family members to show off their wealth (or at least make themselves seem wealthy). Some Torajan people even save up throughout their whole lives so that they can afford the fanciest send-off possible, and sometimes families will even go into debt to make the ceremonies possible. 

Bodies Are Preserved With Formaldehyde In Order To Be Trotted Back Out


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When preserving the bodies of people who have passed away, the Torajans use a mix of formaldehyde and water known as formalin. Instead of putrefying, the body becomes almost like a mummy – dried out. This is an important part of the death rituals, considering that the body usually will continue to "live" with the family for weeks, months, or even over a year before the main funeral. They are known as "makula'," which means a "sick person." The funeral process is drawn out to more closely match the patterns of grief that human beings experience.