The sun has not yet risen from the east when I start making my way to Pangala Village. From Rantepao, the main town in the Tana Toraja region of South Sulawesi, I drive through the narrow streets and traverse the hills. The beautiful curved silhouettes of tongkonan, the uniquely boat-shaped Toraja houses, make me forget I haven’t had breakfast yet. Three hours later, once in the village, I will have a cup of coffee with Sulestosai and ask if I can accompany him through the rice fields to the patane, the Torajan tombs.
Tana Toraja, in the south of Indonesia’s Sulawesi island, is home to about half of the country’s Toraja population, an ethnic group indigenous to this mountainous region. Every August, after the harvest and before the planting season, a celebration called Ma’Nene begins here. It is part of one of the most complex funeral rituals in the world, in which family members dig up their loved ones every three years to dress them in new clothes, clean their bodies and repair their coffins.