National Geographic : 2016 Apr
66 national geographic • april 2016 In search of Kambuno, we wind northward from the small town of Pangala, skirting rice fields and passing through village after village. Shopkeepers, motorbike riders, and passersby direct us. Everyone knows where Kambuno lives. Two schoolgirls in white shirts, navy skirts, and black ties hop in the car to point the way. When the road peters out, we continue on foot up a steep, rocky course. We find Petrus Kambuno, wiry, goateed, al- most toothless, cutting grass by the side of the road. “ You are lucky you found me,” he says. “There is no one left but me who knows these stories.” He claims to be 90 years old. He spins a Genesis-like creation tale, with Toraja at its center. “Here God created man in heaven, and woman from the Earth,” he says. Looking out over lime green terraced rice fields framed which look more like Halloween skeletons. His skin is smooth. His fingernails and beard have grown since they saw him last, relatives exclaim. Daniel was nicknamed Ne’ Boss— Grandpa Boss—years ago, a commentary on his rags- to-riches success. The body’s state is a sign to Pieter that he too will prosper. “Not everybody is like this. It will bring his children and grand- children success,” he says, gleefully. I approached this moment with trepidation. After all, we Westerners cringe at the sight of a corpse. Confronted with several, I find my- self curiously calm and interested. Everyone is festive, wearing bright colors and appearing de- cidedly happy. The smell is musty, like a bunch of blankets put away wet and stored for several years. The sight is definitely odd but surprising- ly not unpleasant or gruesome. “The way they handle the bodies, it’s not scary at all,” says Ki Tan, an Indonesian who grew up in the Neth- erlands, as he watches a family interact with a group of long-dead loved ones, including a year- old child, dead for 38 years. Nearby, a 21-year-old backpacker from Berlin grows reflective. “I feel very lucky to have seen this,” says Maria Hart, recalling sadly that she was so upset by her own grandfather’s death that she refused to attend his funeral. “On a personal level, I take some comfort in the tradition,” says Kathleen Adams, an anthropologist at Loyola University Chicago who has lived among Torajans and their dead. The important thing, Torajans say, is that they are not just individuals. The death of one person is only the dropping of a single stitch in an intricate financial, social, and emotional can- vas winding backward through ancestors and forward through children. How did Torajans come to believe this? I wonder. Go ask Kam- buno, the people say. He’s the man who knows the answers. Watch a ma’nene’ ceremony, or “second funeral,” and listen to Torajans talk about their relationship with the dead. You can find the video at ngm.com/more.