Did you know: The Toraja people of Indonesia often don't bury their deceased loved ones for years - or even decades? - Sabi Tips

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Did you know: The Toraja people of Indonesia often don't bury their deceased loved ones for years - or even decades?


CUDDLING up to Arel, her six year-old sister, Clara stares directly at the camera for a picture. It has the makings of a sweet family mantelpiece portrait - however, one of the girls is dead.

Clara poses with her dead sister Arel, who died when she was six

In a mountainous area of Indonesia, the Toraja people mummify the bodies of the deceased and care for their preserved bodies as though they are still living.

There are around one million Torajan people, most of whom live in the South Sulawesi region, who believe that after death the soul remains in the house so the dead are treated to food, clothing, water, cigarettes.

Their skin and flesh are preserved from decaying and rotting - which begins within days of death - by a coating of a chemical solution called formalin, which is a mixture of formaldehyde and water.


The stench is strong, so the family will store lots of dried plants beside the body to mask the odour.


Songa passed away more than 40 years ago when he was 70 - and is now given a cigarette by a nephew


Yuanita takes a selfie with a relative Allo who died more than 20 years ago


The dead relatives of the Toraja people are kept at home or in special 'ancestral' homes until their funeral


This is the first time four cousins meet their dead relative who passed away a decade ago


A boy called Adaris, who died 20 years ago, gets new clothing before being returned to the family tomb


This body has been adorned with a set of false teeth


At the funeral, water buffalo are sacrificed

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For the community, a well-preserved body brings good fortune so family go to great lengths to ensure those who have died remain in the best possible shape.

They are then kept wrapped up in blankets in a bed in a room of the house or in in wealthier homes, they'll rest in a tongkonan - a traditional Torajan 'ancestral' house with a distinctive boat-shaped roof so the rain water runs off.


There are around one million Torajan people, most of whom live in the South Sulawesi region

They'll stay here until the funeral takes place, which in some instances can be years or even decades.

“My mother died suddenly, so we aren’t ready yet to let her go,” a Torajan woman, Yohana Palangda, told National Geographicof how this helps the grieving process.

“I can’t accept burying her too quickly.”

Often families will need to spend time saving in order to be able to afford a proper funeral, which staggeringly can cost anywhere between 700million Indonesian rupiah (£38,000) for lower castes and more than 3 trillion rupiah (£200,000) for upper castes.

With many low-income rural Torajans struggling to earn more than around 1 million rupiah each month (£54), bank loans are often a necessity and in recent years, younger people have been moving to the cities, unable to afford such high amounts.

These days, the practices are accompanied by Christian elements - including recitations of the Lord's prayer and biblical readings - stemming from when Dutch missionaries discovered Indonesia in the 16th century, in search of nutmeg and cloves, they introduced the religion to the local Torajan people.

These days, European and Australian tourists now mingle with locals as afterlife processions continue to be embraced through the generations.


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