3 Indonesian Sacred Customs That Might Shock You


July 2019


Indonesia is known as the most densely populated Muslim country of the world although here are combined 7 religions at once and even more various beliefs systems. Hinduism, for example, is most widespread to Bali, there are areas where Christianity is professed, and in absolutely small isolated regions there are tribal groups which live under the internal ancient laws and traditions which we will tell below about.

Indonesia has incredibly rich cultural heritage which locals treat with special awe. Indonesians are highly spiritual, religious and very strict to the beliefs and traditions. Generally, these customs and lifestyle shock the modern European, but the way they cherish the traditions admires.

We will tell you about three popular sacred ceremonies, that might terrify you, but are absolutely normal for Indonesian people. Now during your trip you will not be as surprised!

Funeral in Tana Toraja: the walking dead and bulls fight

Perhaps, let’s start with the fact that a funeral in Indonesia are usually held very loudly and without grief or tears due to belief that the soul of the dead person passes into the better world. But before that relatives need to hold a serious ceremony Rambu Solok that lasts several days. It will not be true if we say that it’s anti-mourning event - No. It is rather the last opportunity to express incredible respect and to confess their love to those who left, but knowing that now they will feel much better.

Tana Toraja is a district on the Sulawesi island where surprising burial traditions are still remained. It is inhabited by ethnic group ‚toraja’, which profess animism — belief that all beings, including non-living objects or the phenomenon, have spiritual essence.

Usually funeral does not happen straight away after the death of one of torajas — the family needs some time to raise funds, everything has to be expensive, magnificent and bright. At this time a dead person can be under the same roof with relatives for weeks, months, and sometimes even for years. Before the funeral they are always treated as a sick ones who just suffer from some disease.

One of the most important ceremonies of a funeral in Tana Toraja is a sacrificing.

The bull is considered to be a vehicle to an afterlife, but at the same time is a symbol of prosperity of the dead. If financial resources allow, the Mapasilaga Tedong ritual is held where two bulls battle in a duel where it is not important who will win, because it’s necessary to sacrifice as much as possible animals. They believe that the more blood is spilled the way to paradise will be easier. After that meat of bulls or pigs is given to guests who came to a funeral.

All locals are buried in caves in the rock together with the wooden figure of Tau-tau which symbolize them, except for babies, who are buried in trunks of trees in Tana Toraja.

Each three years after burial, usually in August, the second funeral called Ma’Nene is held. It is, perhaps, the most known and the most terrifying ritual for the civilized person — the walking dead. Family digs out a mummy of their relative, changes clothes and tidy them up, walks with them the streets or just sit at home.

With this ritual they express respect to those who left, take care for the comfort of their afterlife and honor a memory. How frightening would it sound, this second funeral is the way to reunite with the family members who passed.

Balinese ritual called Ngaben

Ngaben — is a Hindu ancient cremation ritual in Bali, which is also called Pitra Yadyna. This custom like every part of Indonesian culture is held with no sorrow. It is said that the passed ones shouldn’t see tears or grief of the relatives, so the atmosphere there is mostly cheerful. Of course, if we can call it that.

Preparation for this ceremony as well as earlier mentioned ones, can last long. After death body is left in the separate room or the temple (usually in each house there is a family temple) where everyone brings food and other various gifts. The cremation ritual for the Balinese is equal to a holiday therefore preparation for it often starts since youth.

Ngaben — is a form of expressing respect of the relatives and other to the one who rested in peace. For Balinese people it’s a bright ceremony of passing to a better world of light and joy.

Ancient Ikipalin ritual

Ikipalin is an ancient ritual of the Dani tribe, who live deep in the highlands of the Western New Guinea. Loss of the loved ones here is followed with a ritual of amputating fingers. Usually it is held only by women, but even anthropologists don’t know the reason yet. They believe that physical pain is an important part of expression of an emotional condition of sorrow and also at Dani fingers symbolize harmony, a unification and force. It is possible also that the ritual is held to calm evil spirits if the dead who is emotionally strong personality.

Honestly, these ceremonies can be terrifying, shocking or weird to a modern person, but it’s a lot to learn from Indonesians. They help us realize that nothing lasts forever and we can handle loss a little bit easier.

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