The Toraja people are known for their elaborate funerary rites. It can take years to prepare and complete all the proper ceremonies to lay a relative to rest and release the soul from the body. Until this is done, they are described as sick, and the slowly mummifying body is cared for like a living person. After the massive and elaborate funeral – often years later – the mummified deceased are interred in carved ossuaries clinging to the cliffs and caves that tower over the village.
The people go and visit their ancestors there. Gradually the ancestors become bones, skeletons. Over the centuries, wood will disintegrate and bones will spill out. They are sometimes gathered up again, skulls placed in rows; other times, the bones are allowed to remain in place, tangled, distinctly human.
Children sit on the cliff ledges, watching Youtube videos on cheap smart phones next to their skeletal ancestors. I walk up the cliff path, and sit for a while. An invited guest. Here at Kete Kesu is where Tony’s relatives lie in rest. His cousin points out the carved likenesses of people who have passed, and invites me to take photographs if I want.
My western upbringing tells me that this is not proper – to photograph the bones of someone else’s relatives. But here, it seems that people feel differently.
Everything has the meaning you give it. I spend some time on the cliffs, just thinking these things over.