Last August, for the first time I wandered through Nosu, Mamasa district, West Sulawesi. The district is less well-known than Toraja, which is apparent from the number of visitors.
Nosu is the highest village in West Sulawesi, located at 1,687 meters above sea level. Clouds hover above the village in the morning, while the afternoon view offers lush, green hills surrounded by mountains. Locals advised me against going to the town after 3 p.m., given its unpredictable weather and the poor roads.
I came to Nosu to see its natural beauty, along with its traditional houses in Mangngi village. I was also intrigued by the mangngaro tradition, where family members exhume the corpses of their loved ones to replace their clothing in an area built around rice fields. The tradition is usually held after the rice harvest in August.
In Toraja, the tradition is called ma’nene, in which the corpses are exhumed, cleaned and dressed in new clothes. Dutch anthropologist Kees Buijs says that both traditions come from the same root. “What’s essential from both events is that they’re related to the growth of rice,” wrote Buijs in an email interview with The Jakarta Post. “Royals who are deceased are considered gods who bestow blessings on the rice.”
The mangngaro procession begins with family members, donning black clothing, walking through rice fields to the alang, a hut in which the corpses are placed. Inside, dozens of corpses are stacked according to their caste. When the door of the alang is removed, tears start to flow. Family members take turns to touch, caress and hold the corpses to convey their feelings.
After night prayers led by a priest, the ceremony is conducted by the slaughter of several buffaloes and pigs. The corpses are then wrapped up in new clothing and several men perform the ma’badong dance.
The corpses are returned to the alang the day after, and the ceremony ends with the slaughter of several more buffaloes and pigs.
The high price of sacrificing animals in the ritual means that only royals can afford the ceremony. The highest caste, the To Dipandan, once sacrificed up to 40 buffaloes in a ceremony.
Risal Landolalan of Nosu expressed the hope that the provincial government could improve the town’s road infrastructure for better access, as well as the inclusion of mangngaro in the local curriculum. (wng)