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NARRATOR:
This is a wooden coffin, called an erong, from the Toraja people in Sulawesi, Indonesia. Carved to represent a water buffalo, it served as the body's final resting place and as a symbolic carriage into Puya, or the Land of Souls.

Funeral rites of the Toraja are complex and expensive. Large public ceremonies attended by hundreds or thousands require so many arrangements that being "officially" dead sometimes had to wait. Michael Hamson explains.

MICHAEL HAMSON:
That person would not be considered dead at all, but just sick and the process of him becoming a full deceased person wouldn't start until the funeral ceremony was about to take place.

NARRATOR:
Once the body was inside, the erong was carefully placed into a niche carved into the face of a cliff. A figure, called a tao-tao, was made in the likeness of the deceased and positioned next to the coffin. A traditional tao-tao is next to the erong. Further to the left is a more modern tao-tao.

MICHAEL HAMSON:
What I think about this particular tao-tao that is quite interesting, is its very extremely naturalism. In the 1960s, a number of Toraja woodcarvers went to Bali to perfect their carving techniques. They went back and started showing off their new skills by making extremely naturalistic tao-taos.

NARRATOR:
These skills helped save the tradition of tao-taos, because at that time many of the Toraja people were converting to Christianity.

MICHAEL HAMSON:
Somehow the church looked favorably upon the more naturalistic tao-taos because the tao-taos now were more like personal portraits, not unlike a photograph that is (chuckles) displayed at a funeral in virtually all other Western cultures.

NARRATOR:
To learn more about symbolism of the tao-tao figures, press PLAY.

Step22-Coffin (Erong), Toraja Culture, Sulawesi, Indonesia


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