A wonderful, wonderful friend who knows I’m slightly twisted made me aware of one of the more horribly fascinating practices I’ve ever read about. The Ma’nene Festival, which roughly translates to ‘ceremony of cleaning corpses’ is practiced by the Torajan people for the Sulawesi Island in Indonesia. The tribe has been participating in this practice for more than a century and what basically happens is that every three years they exhume their dead. They dress them in fresh clothing, brush their hair, clean them off, and then the tribe admires and celebrates their dead family and loved ones. After the celebration they wrap them in several lengths of new cloth to help prevent decay, and put them in fixed caskets. Then they put them back in their resting place until the next festival.
The idea of doing this would have most people running from the room screaming ‘ick ick ick!’ and it only highlights the different way our culture handles death. Quiet, somber funeral homes. Bodies rushed out of the home as soon as the person is dead, and that’s if they actually die at home. Embalming and burial within the week. Most people have a difficult time even discussing the process of burial, much less viewing a dead body so I can’t imagine anyone in our society actually digging someone up to give them an updated hairdo. This is really a shame when you think about it. Perhaps it’s my fascination with the mortuary sciences, but I really like the idea of parlor viewings, family participation in care of the deceased, and celebration for the life lived.
Both ideas give my brain lots to play with in regards to writing. While I don’t usually don’t write sci-fi fantasy, the idea of the Ma’nene Festival just begs for a nice cemetery piece. Perhaps someone not taking care of their dead loved ones the way they were supposed to and they need to be reminded of their duty…hmmmmmmm
And of course the funeral home business will definitely be dissected in my book loosely titled In Deep…