THE TIME OF THE DEAD
Celebrating life through and after death is a practiced ritual for the Trojan tribe of Indonesia. Let us tell you a story about death in a time of living
Words: Emily Georgieva
Photography: Mathew Macquarrie
28 September 2019
In the region in the valley of Loko'mata, clans visit tombs where the skeletons of their family members are kept. This is an old Trojan tradition that has been practiced for centuries.
Trojan are an ethnic group of people, who live in the mountains of South Sulawesi, Indonesia. The Trojan population is 1 100 000, most of whom are Christians. Those people have a strong belief system that revolves around the “Ma’nene” custom. They believe that the skeleton tombs are a way to honour the dead and keep a connection with them. It is a combination of beliefs, traditions, laws and habits, carefully preserved through time.
The ritual is simple. After gathering in the tomb, they open the coffin of their family member and put personal belongings inside. It is an ancient tradition, which has not changed up to modern times. The Trojans believe that by preserving and mummifying the bodies, they honour the life of the dead. For months, in some cases even years, people will keep the bodies in their houses or tombs before they bury them or organise a funeral.
Colours have a vital significance too. The coffins are painted in red and orchid shades before leaving for the funeral ceremonies.
The burial is not typical either. The coffins are carried to specific locations to be placed in monolithic holes inside rocks, located in the mountains. Trained mining engineers take care of the coffins and make sure that everything runs smoothly. Every few years, the corpses are being dug up, to be dressed in new clothes. This is a symbol of love, respect and signifies keeping a connection with those, who are no longer among us.
This tradition is important to the Trojans, otherwise known as 'the people from the uplands'. Preserving it and keeping it 'alive' is an important part of the self-identification of the ethnic group.