National Geographic : 2016 Apr
death in toraja 59 unfolding process. Late loved ones are tended at home for weeks, months, or even years after death. Funerals are often delayed as long as nec- essary to gather far-flung relatives. The grand- est funeral ceremonies are week-long events drawing Torajans home in a vast reverse dias- pora from wherever in the world they may be. When a brigade of a hundred or more motorcy- cles and cars rips through town accompanying a corpse home from far away, traffic stops in a manner that not even an ambulance or a police officer can command. Here, death trumps life. Torajans do not reject medical treatments for life-threatening conditions. Nor do they escape grief when loved ones die. But far from pushing death away, almost everyone here holds death at the center of life. Torajans believe that people aren’t really dead when they die and that a pro- found human connection lasts well past death. Death for many Torajans is not a brick wall but a gauze veil. It is not a severing but just another kind of connection. Often in Toraja the deep link with a loved one doesn’t end at the grave. Periodically some northern Torajans bring their relatives out of their tombs to give them fresh clothing and burial shrouds. No one knows exactly when Torajan death practices began. The Torajan language was Risma Paembonan takes dinner to her mother-in-law, Maria Salempang, who died two weeks earlier, at 84. Time at home with parents can be highly prized. “I’m not sad, because she’s still with us,” says another Torajan woman of her 73-year-old mother, who has lain dead in the house for more than a year.