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The Cave tombs of the Tana Toraja


The cave tombs of Tana Toraja are the last part in the funeral ceremonies of the Tana Toraja. The question is why would you visit the tombs of the Toraja people? The answer is always the same: the way people deal with their deaths tells something about their culture.

The tombs carved in the cliffs with the wooden effigies protecting the tombs

The tombs carved in the cliffs with the wooden effigies protecting the tombs

After the ceremony in the village, which takes many days, the coffin will be brought to the last resting place. The Tana Toraja have 3 methods of burial: the coffin may be laid in a cave or in a carved stone, or hang on a cliff.

The coffin will contain the possessions of the deceased which are needed in the afterlife. Sometimes a cave will contain the remains of a whole family. If so, you will see a series of wooden effigies. The more effigies, the more people are buried here. There are two cliffs which can be easily visited: Lemo and Londa.

cave tombs of Tana Toraja

Building such a grave is not cheap, and only the wealthy have the money to build one. When I visited Lemo and Londa I saw several of these cave tombs. Some of the caves are old and totally open. Remains lie on the floor, sometimes collected in a pile in a corner. Some of the time, no one even remembers who rests here.

cave tombs of Tana Toraja

The coffin of a baby or child may be hung from ropes on a cliff face or from a tree. This hanging grave usually lasts for years, until the ropes rot and the coffin falls to the ground.

cave tombs of Tana Toraja

While I was wandering around the cliffs, it was clear that some caves were build by rich people, while others where not so lucky in life.

cave tombs of Tana Toraja

The Toraja believe that death is not the end, not even a sudden abrupt event but more a process, a journey to the land of souls (the Puya). This a funeral is not immediately necessary. The family will try to raise funds for the funeral and the tomb. It can take several months.

Wooden effigies of the Tana Toraja

During this period the body of the deceased stays in the house, wrapped in layers of cloth in the Tongkonan, the boat shaped traditional ancestral house. But only the wealthy and nobles are allowed to build a Tongkonan.

The mumble jumble of coffins in one cave

The soul of the deceased will stay here until the funeral ceremony is completed, the coffin placed in the tomb and the effigy placed.

cave tombs of Tana Toraja
Wooden effigies, the more effigies, the more family members in the cave tomb.

cave tombs of Tana TorajaThe consequence of this part of the culture is that the funeral ceremony plays an important part in the life of the Toraja people, not only in the minds but also in daily life.

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