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Toraja funeral

Tana Toraja is a regency of the South Sulawesi province of Indonesia and home to the Toraja ethnic group.

When a Torajan person dies, it is not unusual for families to keep the body in their homes for years, while they save enough money to stage the funeral: an elaborate series of multi-day ceremonies that can include the slaughter of up to 24 water buffaloes. The buffalo in the picture was slaughtered too.

The more powerful (and wealthy) the person who has died, the more buffaloes are slaughtered during the ceremonies.

The buffaloes carcasses are usually lined up on a field waiting for their owner, who is in the "sleeping stage". Torajans believe that the deceased will need the buffaloes to make the journey and that they will be quicker to arrive at Puya (the Torajan’s equivalent of heaven) if they have many buffaloes. Tourists are invited to join these funerals. A relevant question is, whether or not it is ethical to visit these ceremonies. The Torajans seem to be ok with this, since the foreign tourists (are supposed to) bring gifts and their visit may enhance the Torajan family’s status in the community.

It is rather strange, however, that tourists attend the funerals of perfect strangers, taking photos to document the whole thing… Are they exploiting someone else’s death? Was I doing that?

Additionally, animal welfare organisations stress that culture is no excuse for animal cruelty. “All tourists have the opportunity to help reduce demand for events that exploit animals by choosing not to attend them,” World Animal Protection says. What’s your opinion on issues like these?

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