The Mystery of a Walking Corpse in Toraja

walking corps

Once a year in Toraja, South Sulawesi, the indigenous tribe performs a death ceremony called Ma'Nene.

In August, bodies are taken from their graves to be cleaned, dressed, and changed. After that, the corpses will walk on their own to their original graves.

For the Toraja people in the mountainous region of South Sulawesi, Indonesia, the ritual of caring for the dead has become a common practice.

Once a year, in August, the Ma'Nene ritual takes place. During this period many families climb cliffs and enter caves in the nearby countryside, to collect the bodies of their relatives, which are then bathed, preserved, and re-dressed.

The mummified remains are then paraded from the village standing upright and brought back to their resting place.
Interesting, but this process is actually just continuing an old ritual that happened before Toraja lost their territory due to Dutch colonization.

Torajans are typically a very isolated people. Their villages are built around one family, which in the end makes everyone in the village a family member. Although Torajans will travel from village to village and family to family, they will not get too far out of the nature they are in.

The reason for this caution is because Torajans believe that when they die, the spirit will linger around the body before it can be guided to 'Puya', the land where the souls belong.

For this to happen, the body must be with the family for the process to occur. If someone is far outside the region when they die, they may not be found and their spirit will linger forever with the body.

Luckily the Torajans have a means of dealing with lost bodies, although it is expensive and only for certain people.

This service comes from a 'sorcerer' who can summon lost bodies and souls, and make them walk back to the village. Upon hearing his call, the corpse would then rise and begin its stiff, expressionless journey to its home.

Once a walking corpse is discovered, people will run forward to warn others that the corpse is heading toward them. This is not out of fear, but rather another aspect of the ritual, to ensure the corpse will make its way home as soon as possible. If anyone has direct communication with the corpse, the corpse will inevitably collapse to the ground and become lifeless again. The person with the corpse will tell all those in its path that this is indeed a walking corpse, and not to make contact.

Once the body has completed its journey, it is wrapped and placed in a safe place, usually in a room below the house. For the upper class, the body will lie between the columns of their Tongkonan, an elevated ancestral house. Here the body would await a burial feast, which could be in a few days or sometimes months. The feast can be very expensive, and the higher the class in the family, the more expensive the feast. The feast would be attended by thousands of Torajans, could last for days, and include chicken fights, buffalo, and chicken slaughter.

At the end of the feast, the body will be washed, prepared, and dressed, to finally be taken to its resting place. According to legend, in the past, the corpse would make its way to its resting place. Generally, the body would be placed in a coffin placed in a cave on top of a cliff or in a hollowed-out section of the cliff. If the deceased were a child, the coffin would be suspended from the side of the cliff via ropes and vines, which would eventually fall to the ground.

The Torajans firmly believe that the body and spirit should be placed between heaven and earth, thus burial should be at a high altitude. Wooden statues are carved to mark death, and these adorn the cliffs and cave mouths.

From here once a year the body undergoes a process of washing, grooming, and dressing to once again walk through the villages.

However, according to some observers, not all the magic of the ceremony has been lost. Sometimes magic is still used and the body can be seen breathing before the buffalo beheading ceremony.

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