A tree of lost dreams – Tana Toraja, Sulawesi, Indonesia

This is the final part in a series about Toraja, view other parts: Part I, Part II, Part III

A baby has no teeth and without teeth, it cannot speak. Being unable to speak and thus unable to spread falsehood, a baby is considered sacred by the Torajan people.

When a baby passes away, it does not get the regular elaborate funeral ceremony the Torajans normally hold. Instead, the naked body of the baby is placed inside a hole in a tree after which the hole is covered with palm tree fibers.

The tree used for this is the latex tree, and it is chosen for a very specific reason. The latex in the tree is considered milk for the baby and, over time, the hole in which the baby has been placed will grow shut, thus returning it to the ‘womb’. As the tree grows higher and higher, it will carry the spirit of the baby up to the heavens.

However beautiful the tradition and the tree are, I was glad to hear that thanks to the free immunization provided for newborns by UNICEF, infant mortality has dropped dramatically and the tree has not been in use for a long time.

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