Burial Urns and Different Cultures

There are a variety of burial traditions around the world that take place for loved ones that pass. These traditions can be completely different depending on the culture and what might be a traditional method in one country, could potentially be the total opposite in another. An example of this would be the comparison of the UK to India. In the UK at a funeral, you would wear black as the colour of mourning. In India however, those who follow the Hindu faith would wear a white garb to a funeral. 

When attending a funeral in the UK, they generally take place over one day. Guests gather together to say their goodbyes, wearing a black dress or a black suit. The funeral service tends to take place a week or two after your loved ones passing, (sometimes sooner depending on circumstance and preference.). During a funeral, the person who has passed away will be buried or cremated. If they have chosen to be cremated, their remains will be placed in a cremation urn, or a burial urn if the ashes are buried.

Eastern Indonesia Funerals

An Eastern Indonesia funeral is very different to a traditional UK funeral. Their funerals tend to last several days and can be as long as a week. On many occasions, you will have the whole village attending instead of just the people closest to the person who has passed away. 

Due to funerals in Eastern Indonesia being very elaborate, it can be that they take place a year after the person has passed away. The longer families take to arrange the funeral, the more they can save allowing for a more opulent funeral. Whilst they are saving, the body of their loved one will be kept and preserved in a specific room within their home. Here they will be ritually looked after. 

Eastern Indonesian homes (called tongkonan) tend to be traditional ancestral homes and represent the family's life cycle. It is believed that where a person was born is also where they die, this is why they will be placed here after their passing, allowing them to pass on to their ancestral resting place. 

Where we refer to the dead as dead before their funeral, people in Eastern Indonesia will refer to them as being sick or asleep until after the funeral. 

Rituals Before the Funeral

At an Eastern Indonesian funeral, rituals come before it takes place and members of the community will gather together to watch the family perform these. These rituals are part of the tradition and are done to send their loved ones into the Puya or the afterlife. 

A funeral is seen as one of the most important social events of one's life, bigger than their birth or a wedding. For this reason alone, a funeral will not take place until enough funds have been saved and it’s deemed appropriate to the status of the person who passed. 

As part of their beliefs, in order to have a proper funeral, a sacrifice is needed in order to send the person who has passed away into the afterlife. For many, the sacrifice of a water buffalo is the ultimate honour, as this shows their wealth. Other animals can be used as a sacrifice such as a chicken and pigs as this shows the dependence on these animals for survival. If a really large funeral is to take place, more than 25 buffalo’s may be sacrificed in the process, these buffalos can be worth thousands of pounds. 

“The Toraja people believe the spirit of the dead lives among us, the living, looking out for us, blessing us,” says Eric Crystal Allo, the head of the Torajan branch of AMAN (customary law community of Indonesia). It is clear that the Toraja people deeply respect their dead.

The Ma’nene Ritual

The Ma’nene ritual takes place in August, after the rice harvest. It is performed after their funeral and involves the family visiting the tomb of their loved one and removing the corpse. Once removed they will groom the corpse with their favourite cologne and jewellery, dress them in new clothes and if they believe in Christianity, place a gold cross around the neck of the deceased before reburying them again. The Ma’nene ritual is a big ceremony that will include the whole village. It’s believed that death is not the end of a person’s life, but another step to spiritual life.

Western Cremation Urns

One question that people often ask here in the West about the cremated remains of their loved one is, “How do I display the cremation urn?”, or even “It is weird to display my unique urn in my home?”. Hopefully reading about the Toraja People and their ease with their dead will assuage any of these concerns. The only right way to grieve is the way that feels best to those left behind, and after reading about the ma’nene, perhaps you’ll feel more comfortable with displaying your beloved’s cremation urn in the way that feels right to you.