Death Ritual in Toraja Culture

Posted on 12/09/2023

Death has a special place in the Toraja people's customs. If we go to Tana Toraja, one of the most visited tourist destinations is the burial sites and death ceremonies which are the distinctive characteristics of the Toraja people.


In the original belief of the Toraja people, Aluk To Dolo, people who die will move from the present world to the world of spirits called Puya. People who have died have not been considered dead as long as the process of his death ceremony has not been completed. As long as it has not been ceremonially, people who have died are considered sick or weak. The body will be treated like a living person; laid down like a sleeping person, given food and drink, and talked to by family members because his spirit is believed to still be in his body. If the ceremony is never completed or is not carried out, it is believed that the spirit of the deceased will not be accepted at Puya and will wander forever on the surface of the earth carrying all its suffering.


The Toraja death ceremony is called Rambu Solo', derived from the word Rambu which means smoke or offering and Solo' which means dropping. The purpose of this ceremony is to honor and deliver the spirits to Puya to join with their ancestors. This ritual is a very important and expensive event. The richer and higher the status of a person, the more expensive the ceremony must be spent. The death feast of a person from a noble family could take several days and be attended by thousands of people.


The form of the Rambu Solo ceremony is adapted to the social level in Toraja society. Based on this, the Rambu Solo ceremony is divided into four levels, namely: the Disilli' ceremony (the lowest funeral ceremony in Aluk To Dolo), the Di Pasangbongi ceremony (one night funeral ceremony), the Dibatang or Didoya Tedong ceremony (for middle nobility (Tana' Bassi)), and the Rapasan ceremony (for high nobility (Tana' Bulaan)).


The bodies that have gone through the Rambu Solo ceremony are then buried. There are five types of graves in Toraja custom.


The first is an earthen grave. Like most people who die elsewhere, the Toraja people also bury their bodies in the ground.


The second is a stone grave (Liang). This grave is made by chiseling the surface of the rock to form a hole of about 2-4 square meters depending on the size of the rock. Then the body will be put into the hole. Stone graves can usually be made on the cliff face so that they are not easily plundered.


The third is the wooden grave (Passiliran). Passiliran is intended for babies who died when they were just born. The body will be put into the Tarra' tree which has been perforated. It is believed that the Tarra' tree is a substitute for mothers while the sap of the tree will be a substitute for breast milk.


Fourth is the wall grave (Patane). This unique grave is in the form of a small building with an area of between 5-10 square meters and is often found in the wild. You could mistake Patane for the dwelling of the living when you see it.


The fifth is a cave grave (Lo'ko'). Lo'ko' has a lot in common with Liang so it's hard to tell apart when you see it for the first time. The main difference is that Liang is carved out of rock while Lo'ko' or cave graves are natural caves. Lo'ko' is usually located on a rock cliff in the hills with karst rocks which usually have many caves on the surface.


For bodies that have been buried for a long time and have become skeletons, they will usually be moved to a grave or erong container. Erong is a wooden burial container equipped with a lid that functions as a second burial and as a family grave. Erong generally contains skeletons from corpses in the same family or clan. Inside the erong is usually included a kitchen utensil in the form of a container for eating called kandean dulang, which is considered a provision for the spirits of the dead. The transfer of the skeleton from the grave to the erong is also accompanied by a ceremony that sacrifices several buffaloes or pigs.


Earlier was a little information about death rites and funeral ceremonies in Toraja. Hopefully this article can provide inspiration and insight so that you can add to your appreciation of culture when you visit Tana Toraja. Not only tours for death rites and funeral ceremonies, in Tana Toraja you can also enjoy Toraja Coffee which is well known abroad. To enjoy quality Toraja coffee, you can try brewing coffee from the Sulotco Jaya Abadi Plantation in the mountains of Rantekarua, Bolokan.