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The Ma’Nene Festival of Indonesia; a Mysterious Way to Honor the Dead

by Sushree Mohanty

The Ma’Nene Festival of Indonesia; a Mysterious Way to Honor the Dead

June 12, 2021

As a part of an uncanny tradition, Indonesian Torajans dig up the mummified corpses of their deceased relatives to clean and dress them. They then parade their dressed corpses around the streets. Strange, but true! This ritual is a part of the annual Ma'nene festival!

The Torajans

Every culture has its way of following prevailing traditions and serving those who have passed away. The world believes in several uncanny phenomena, so do some countries where they follow distinct ways to celebrate their festivals.

Tana Toraja Regency of South Sulawesi Province of Indonesia is popular as “Land of The Heavenly Kings”. It is famous for coffee and is home to the Torajan ethnic group of Indonesia. They have a mysterious way of celebrating their dead; their funeral rites are hauntingly different from the usual. 

The Ma’Nene ritual is the festival of ancestor worship in Indonesia. What is wrong is worshipping the dead? We heard about mummies preserved in the pyramids; Indonesia’s Torajans preserve them and disinter them to decorate them.

When a family member dies, their body is mummified with natural ingredients and then buried in tombs. Mummifying the deceased through an embalming process helps preserve the corpse until the family returns to exhume it at the festival. 

On the annual Ma’Nene festival, after digging the corpses out from the tomb, clean them and dress them in new clothes. The Torajans culturally follow the ritual of displaying their dead relatives as an ancient ritual meant to respect their loved ones who have passed away.

torajans-scoolbuzz
Tana Toraja Regency of South Sulawesi Province of Indonesia is popular as "Land of The Heavenly Kings".

Death isn't the final destination; it's just a little step into the world that's beyond the material body

Death has no particular time; it is not fixed. There is also no fixed date for this festival; it is usually celebrated towards the end of August. Torajan people believe that death doesn’t mean goodbye or parting with loved ones, so they celebrate this festival to revisit their corpses and take care of them.

This festival takes place every three years when the tribe from South Sulawesi disinter their dead relatives. It is followed by washing and dressing them in fresh clothes. Even the dead are made to pose for family photographs. The ritual Ma’nene translates as “The Ceremony of Cleaning Corpses”. It has been prevailing for more than a century now.

The festival is so significant and unique that it has become one of the most important festivals and events for the Torajan people. Most people even save money so that they can present a respectable funeral ceremony to the family members.

ma-nene-festival-scoolbuzz
Every three years, the tribe from Sulawesi island exhume their dead, who they wash and dress in fresh clothes and then pose for family photographs.

Origin of this bizarre tradition

The Ma’Nene festival is believed to have its origin in the Baruppu village. Folklore says that Pong Rumasek, a hunter, found a corpse decaying under a tree on his hunt through the mountains and jungle. He stopped by, cleaned, and dressed the corpse in his clothes, giving the deceased a proper and respectful funeral. After this incident in his life, he was believed to be blessed with good fortune. 

However, what sounds more scary or creepy is that the deceased’s funeral is held for a few days or even years in some families so that they can save up some bucks to pay for a respectable funeral. During these days, families inject a formaldehyde solution into the deceased corpse.

Whenever someone dies, their deceased body is wrapped in cloth and natural ingredients to prevent decay. 

Surrounded by creepy corpses, many people are afraid of inhaling the dust of corpses. However, it is a sign of the love and bond they share with the dead. They believe that their loved ones are spiritually present around them.

Peculiar traditions often set extraordinary examples

Almost everyone in the world thinks that once an individual is dead, he/she is no more living with us. They are dead and not an active member of society. This fundamental thought is a little different for the inhabitants of Tana Toraja, who believe that the body is immortal and there’s a spiritual life beyond death. In their belief system, death is just one step in an ongoing spiritual life and not the end of one’s being. 

The festival assures that the dead has a role in society even after their demise. It made people believe not to view death with a demonic filter. The world might look at the Ma’Nene festival as spooky, strange, and very unusual. But the people believe that death is not the end of love and care.

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