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Torajan families unearth deceased relatives and clean their graves in a ritual known as "Manene" © AFP / Hariandi HAFIZ

Special Report

Digging up graves: an Indonesian community honours its dead

Torajan families unearth deceased relatives and clean their graves in a ritual known as “Manene” © AFP / Hariandi HAFIZ

Toraja, Indonesia, Aug 29 – Families in a mountainous community on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island dig up their mummified relatives every three years, clean them and dress them in their favourite clothes to honour their spirits.

The “Manene” ritual is carried out by the Torajan people, either before or after the August harvest, when deceased family members are unearthed and their graves cleaned.

“Sometimes we even have a conversation with them, asking them to wish us health, prosperity and health,” Rony Pasang, whose family carried out the tradition on Saturday, told AFP.

The family members were unearthed and laid out to dry in the sun, before being dressed © AFP / Hariandi HAFIZ

Pasang dug up several dead family members including his grandmother and great aunt — with his children and grandchildren paying respect to the shrivelled, mummified corpses.

The family members in the village of Panggala were unearthed and laid out to dry in the sun, before being dressed.

A feast was also held and a pig slaughtered for the occasion.

The death of a relative involves many intricate ceremonial steps for the Torajan people, who number about a million.

The deceased are mummified through an embalming process that used to involve sour vinegar and tea leaves © AFP / Hariandi HAFIZ

The deceased are mummified through an embalming process that used to involve sour vinegar and tea leaves. These days though families usually inject a formaldehyde solution into the corpse.

After many months, the souls of the dead are freed — and immortality assured — with an elaborate multi-day funeral ceremony called Rambu Solo.

A majority of Torajans are Christians but they retain many animist rituals and beliefs.

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