From Here to Eternity: Part 3

The third part of From Here to Eternity follows Caitlin Doughty’s observations in Tana Toraja, Indonesia. Their ma’nene’ ceremony in August brings a sort of “death tourism” to Indonesia. It got to the point where the locals had to figure out a way to allow tourists to view the ceremony without giving them free reign over their traditions. It has to be difficult, as Doughty observed some truly disgusting displays of disrespect. A German tourist had the gall to stand in the middle of the ceremony, shoving her tablet in people’s faces with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. Another tourist set up their folding chair right next to one of the families. This is really ironic, since later in the chapter Doughty talks about the opinions that some people have had about ma’nene’. If it’s disrespectful to clean the mummified remains of a loved one, what does that mean for those treating it as a tourist spectacle?

Aside from the larger ceremony, some families go directly to their loved ones’ graves to clean their corpses. It’s a location that the locals don’t want any of the tourists to even know where it is, and Doughty never discloses it.

The people of Toraja have a very different relationship with death than western cultures. They often keep the body of one of their loved ones in their homes for extended periods of time, until they can have a proper funeral and send their spirit into the next life. It’s not something I really understand. But while I can’t imagine having a dead body in my home for weeks, months, or even years, that’s just not the way I was raised. Perhaps someone of that culture would be confused as to why someone would want their loved one’s body out of the home as quickly as possible. There is a middle ground, such as having the wake and funeral at home before burial, but even that’s hard for some to be comfortable with. It’s really fascinating to get this glimpse into a culture that has views on death so incredibly different from my own. I may not completely understand their beliefs, but this chapter helped to open my eyes and see, even for just a moment, how they see the barrier between life and death. And honestly, better to do it through a book then to get up in someone’s face with a tablet.

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