Gasping in tears before her family grave, Odiya Sulu (38) slowly grabbed a photograph of her mother who passed away a year ago, hugging it while uttering words in Torajanese about how much she missed her. That day Odiya and her family were performing Ma’nene, a rite of an old Torajanese belief called Alo’ Tadolo. To see Ma’nene, we came to a village up Pangala mountains in Rindingallo sub-district, about an hour’s drive from North Toraja district’s capital Rantepao or approximately 9 hours away from Makassar, the biggest city in the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia.
In this tradition, relatives visit their family grave-house Patane, cleaning the area and taking out the preserved dead bodies to clean them up and put them in the sun for dehumidification. This is carried out after the harvest period that usually ends in August once every one, two, or three years—or more, depending on the family’s agreement. It is meant to be a way to honor predecessors, which according to the belief, will result in better harvest in the following year.
Odiya’s sobbing became wailing when her mother’s coffin was carried outside and opened by relatives. It could be seen clearly that the body of Elis Sulu, who died a year ago at 65, remained intact thanks to the formaldehyde preservation. Weeping still, Odiya stroke the deceased woman’s face as her brother gently touched her shoulder in a soothing manner. She was feeling calmer not long after, calm enough to fetch a broom to start cleaning the grave while her mother’s body was let lying in the sun. Once everything was clean, the male relatives took the body out of the coffin and covered her back in cloths.
A Catholic priest was getting ready to say prayers as Elis Sulu was a follower of Catholicism during her life. The priest then splashed holy water to the body and led a prayer before she was brought back to the Patane. Upon the completion of the ceremony, all members of the family headed back to Odiya’s home to eat together the traditional food that had been prepared earlier in the morning. The meal signaled the end of the rite.
With the advance of time and the arrivals of new religions such as Christianity, Catholicism, and Pantecost in Toraja, the Ma’nene has gradually been fading out. Only in a few villages in the mountains, especially in Rindingallo and Baruppu, that this rite still enjoys certain degrees of existence. Although the people now follow new religions, in reality there is some kind of amalgamation where they preserve and observe Ma’nene with the practices of the new religions.