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Don't Stand Too Close to the Water Buffalo: Tourists Crash Funerals in Indonesia

Indonesian funeral

Few things provide a better glimpse into another culture like stumbling upon on a village wedding or festival when traveling, but what about funerals?

The Torajan people, who live in the South Sulawesi region of Indonesia, are known for their lavish funerals, which can last several days. According to a recent CNN report, tourists are increasingly coming to watch the festivities, and grapple with a variety of ethics surrounding funeral-crashing.

These ceremonies go well beyond the uplifting, jazz-fueled processions one might see on the streets of New Orleans—and they’re much tougher to get to. First, you need to fly from Jakarta or Bali to Makassar, then take an 8-hour bus ride to Rantepao.

But some would say the trip is worth it in terms of a cultural display: Torajan funerals are elaborate (and costly) affairs—meant to show a family’s status, and generate good will from the beyond for their crops and livelihoods. Torajan families sometimes even delay a funeral for weeks or months to fund them properly as their departed loved one is put on ice, as it were.

More troubling for some tourists, however, may be the part of the ceremony that involves the slaughter of a water buffalo or pig. "Culture is no excuse for cruelty," a spokesperson for The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) told CNN'S Lydia Tomkiw. "All tourists have the opportunity to help reduce demand for events that exploit animals by choosing not to attend them."

If you decide to go anyway, according to the report, tourists are generally expected to bring a gift. One common gift: a carton of cigarettes, which, ironically, may just hasten more funerals.

Photo by Charles Lenars

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