Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Air Supply is worshipped in the town where corpses hang from cliffs.

The thought of carrying human vertebrae onto an airplane and across continents was too much to bear. And trust me, the ghost stories my Indonesian friends earnestly told me about being forever haunted for what I’d just stashed in my pocket had no effect. It must’ve been some instinctual taboo against pilfering graves that made me surreptitiously toss the human remains back onto the piles of jawless skulls, dirty human femurs, rib bones and countless unsmoked cigarettes (left as offerings to the ghosts).

I’m in the mountainside town of Toraja (Wiki link) on the island of Sulawesi somewhere in Indonesia. Whenever people die here, the families cover the bodies in herbs and store them in special houses for months until the “Days of the Dead” festival each May. When the festival arrives, the villagers parade the deceased to various spots along the steep cliffs surrounding the town. There, they ascend towering bamboo ladders to deposit their relatives’ bodies into wooden coffins suspended by logs jutting from the cliff face. Coffins of babies and children are hung from trees. This serves as their resting place until years later the ropes rot or the rock eventually crumbles with the weight of dead humans and the coffins come crashing down from several meters, bones scattering in all directions. The locals are too afraid of ghosts to clean up the morbid mess so the sight is like Cambodia circa 1977. This odd way of treating corpses started hundreds of years ago as a way to prevent grave robbing and it’s still practiced in 2007.

Still feeling the jitters from the number of human bones and skulls I’d just fingered or nearly stolen, I steered the discussion to pop music during the car ride home. Three different locals told me that Air Supply is the most popular music in Toraja – loved and adored. I didn’t believe them at first, but they proved it by belting out the best rendition of “All Out of Love” I’ve heard next to my wife’s. Nothing like bad 80s music to make you forget the sight of hundreds of dead humans strewn about willy nilly …

The locals leave cigarettes for the ghosts, stuck between the bones. You can see thousands of them scattered about, stained brown from the rain:



Here are the coffins that hang from the side of the cliff. These coffins were fairly close to the ground but there are others very high up on the face:



Human bones are everywhere. You can't help but step on them when walking around the area.



This is a typical storage house for the bodies before the villagers hang them from the cliffs. You can see the pictures of the deceased at the top.



Sometimes the coffins are carved like water buffalos:



Here's a coffin that fell from the side of the cliff and no one ever cleaned up the bones:



More offerings of cigarettes to the ghosts:



Man, I really miss my old office job ...
Comments:
I have also heard that any recent pop music, especially Britney Spears, will help to wash away the memories of seeing human corpses. Not only that, but will do so much brain damage, all short term memory is destroyed.

You have a great job LB. Being able to experience the cultures of the world is a gift few Americans get to appreciate. Too bad really, it might wake them up from their close-minded and "buying junk"-induced sleepwalk of docility.
 
That is a wild custom. Did you encounter any bodies with flesh still on them?
 
Do you think suspending the babies' bodies in the trees was inspiration for the lullaby "Rock A-Bye Baby?"
 
I hope you left your Bic lighter with them. I wonder if you could get some weird visions smoking corpse weed.

Some states in the U.S. now forbid burying the dead wearing any type of jewellery, to prevent grave robbing. I know North Carolina is one. Also, in Maryland, if you want to leave anything in a casket, you have to fill out and detail items on a form and sign it, like a legal document. Recently, a funeral director told me these laws had come about when people would do things like....like bury a Will out of spite with the deceased, and then officials would have to go out and dig them up again.
 
In the first picture, here's my caption for what the skull is saying:

"You think you're better than me, bitch? Just 'cause you got flesh attached to you? You ain't better'n me, muthafukka!!
 
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