WARNING: CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES
A documentary on YouTube has revealed what life is like with a so-called “Indonesian death cult” where families live with their deceased relatives after they die.
In one particularly poignant scene, Fearless & Far host Mike Corey describes the moment a woman approached him to indicate that the dead person in front of him was actually her father.
In the film, Corey travels to the village of Tana Toraja, dubbed the “Land of the Dead,” to find out for himself how the residents grieve when loved ones die.
It is customary for the people of Toraja to preserve the memory of the dead by—literally—holding out their bodies as if they were still alive.
As the documentary by Fearless&Far shows, local people believe that after death, the soul remains in the house where it lived before.
To prevent the corpses from decaying and rotting during this time, they are doused in formaldehyde and water, with dried plants also kept nearby to mask the pungent odor.
The bodies are eventually buried, but they are retrieved from their graves in a ritual called “ma’nene” (“care for the ancestors”) that takes place every August.
The documentary shows Ma’nene firsthand, where the dead are taken out of their coffins, cleaned of insects and dirt, and given new clothes by their relatives and the rest of the village.
During this ceremony, Corey meets the women whose father is being raised from his grave for the first time since his death.
The filmmaker shares what she told him: “As they were opening this coffin, one of the ladies came up to me and grabbed my arm and pulled me closer and said, ‘This is my father.’
“She had a big smile on her face and wanted me to film this moment because she hasn’t seen her father since he died so long ago.”
Photographer Claudio Sieber, who traveled to the village last year, is helping to shed some light on why the locals continue the morbid custom.
He explained via Escape, “In Toraja, it is customary to feed the deceased every day and to comfortably store the bodies in a separate room of the home until the family can afford a proper burial, which can easily cost $50,000 to $500,000 depending on.” the caste of the family and how many buffalo they must sacrifice.”
In addition, many people in the village say that the delayed burial aids the grieving process.
A grieving Torajan woman in the film “Fearless & Far” said, “My mother died suddenly, so we’re not ready to let her go just yet.”
The channel’s original video, titled “LIVING A WEEK with the DEATH TRIBE of Indonesia,” has garnered 4.6 million views since it was first uploaded in October last year.
Given its newfound prominence, Toraja has become something of a tourist attraction in recent years, and many now attend the Ma’nene ceremony.