The Mummies of Tana Toraja and the People Who Love Them

The Mummies of Tana Toraja and the People Who Love Them

Every year, the people of Tana Toraja in Indonesia throw a party for their deceased. The mummies of family members are exhumed, cleansed, and gifted with new clothing in a tribute from their surviving family members. It’s called the Ma’Nene Festival and though it doesn’t fall on a specific date, it typically occurs toward the end of August.

In the United States, we’re prone to bid our loved ones adieu at their funerals. Whether we believe in an afterlife or not, we move forward with our lives in a divorced state from the deceased. In fact, we’re so confident in the divide between the living and the dead that the sheer thought of a connection between the two fills us with terror as evidenced by the foundation of the majority of our horror movies. But as mentioned on SmokeJedi before, Dr. Paul Koudounaris feels differently about the dead and his photos of the mummies of Tana Toraja show this unique sensitivity.

Enjoy this breathtaking gallery of 38 photos from Dr. Koudounaris’ most recent trip to Tana Toraja and keep up on his busy schedule of events and lectures worldwide through his official site, Empire de la Mort.


Many of the mummies honored in the Ma’Nene Festival are bedecked in colorful clothing, such as the mummy of this woman who died 29 years ago. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-posing-with-grandchildrenThe woman’s grandsons pose proudly with her mummy. The mummies are respected and revered though simultaneously mourned. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-mans-family-prepares-to-give-him-new-shirtOne of the mummies, bedecked in sunglasses, seems to patiently await the gift of a new shirt from his family. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-the-mummies-revealedThe moment when one of the mummies is first revealed by his family. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-woman-standing-over-husbands-coffinThe Ma’Nene Festival can be a time of mixed emotions. Here, a local woman stands awash with emotions over the coffin of her husband. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-grandsons-inspect-mummy-of-grandmotherGrandsons look over the mummy of their grandmother. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-the-mummies-cleaned-with-careAll the mummies are cleansed of their dust. These grandsons are seen dutifully cleaning their grandmother’s mummy with a brush. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-broken-necklace-retied-for-grandmother-mummyOne of the grandsons repairs a broken necklace found during the inspection of his grandmother’s mummy. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-grandmother-mummy-gifted-new-blouseA brand new blouse is presented to the mummy. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)


The grandsons adjusting the new dress. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-grandsons-pose-with-mummy-of-grandmotherThe grandsons smile for a photo with the mummy of their grandmother modelling her brand new dress. It’s a bittersweet moment as the family has reconnected with her but will soon return her to her coffin for another year. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-elderly-woman-mummyThe mummy of an elderly woman swathed in lavish clothing. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-ulderly-mummy-mourned-by-daughterThe mummy of the elderly woman shares a moment with her daughter who is overcome with emotion at the sight of her beloved mother. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)


The mummy is gifted with new necklaces as her daughter gives her a full mummy makeover. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-mummy-post-makeoverThe mummy of the elderly mother after her makeover. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-woman-exhumed-and-inspected-by-familyA family opens their loved one’s coffin so that they may view the mummy, connect with her, and wish her well. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-cleaning-mummified-government-workerThe mummy of a government worker is cleaned with the utmost care. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-dust-cleaned-from-mummyThe dust is carefully cleaned from the former government worker’s legs. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-mummified-government-worker-post-cleaningThe mummified government worker after his body has been cleansed. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-family-member-poses-with-mummified-government-workerA family member proudly poses with the mummy of the former government worker. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-baby-mummy-in-bright-fabricsThis infant mummy is lovingly adorned in bright fabrics. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-cleaning-mothers-head-with-twigsA family lovingly cleans their mother’s face with a brush they’ve fashioned from twigs. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-the-mummies-carefully-inspectedThe mummies are carefully inspected and cleaned by their families. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-the-mummies-presented-in-coffins-of-flowing-fabricsThe mummies are often pulled from coffins of colorful flowing fabrics during Ma’Nene. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-coffin-pulled-from-rock-tombA lavish coffin bearing the promise of a mummy is delicately pulled from a rocky tomb. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-elderly-man-exhumedThe mummy of a local 90-year-old man is cut from his clothes by his mourning family. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-detail-of-90-year-old-man-mummy-cut-from-clothesDetail of the mummy of a 90-year-old-man being cut from his clothing. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-man-stood-up-for-disrobingThis mummy is held upward by his family to allow for easier disrobing. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-family-takes-care-in-undressing-mummyThe man’s family takes necessary precautions as they complete the undressing of his mummy. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-family-inspect-mummy-of-90-year-old-manFamily inspect the mummy while other family members watch on. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-cleaning-the-mummies-remainsUpon completing their inspection, the family begins to clean the mummy and readjust his sunglasses. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-new-suit-for-mummyRefreshed and with the gift of a new suit, the mummy is gently returned to his coffin. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-mummy-reunited-with-familyMost of the mummies are somewhat acquainted with their families but this mummy is of a man who died in another part of the island and has until this moment been estranged from his family. The opening of his coffin captures the powerful moment that they see their loved one’s body for the first time since he was returned home. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-undressing-of-recently-reunited-family-memberThe mummy of the estranged man is undressed by his family. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-estranged-mummy-exhumed-laid-on-groundThe recently returned mummy is delicately laid out on the ground by his family members to continue cleaning and preparation. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-money-offerings-for-recently-returned-mummyThe mummy is wrapped in a beautiful red shroud and gifted with offerings of money. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-mummified-young-boy-inspectedThe mummy of a young boy is inspected by his loved ones. A thumbs up shows the lack of taboo surrounding the dead in Tana Toraja. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

koudounaris-pictures-of-mummies-inspection-of-young-boy-mummyThe young boy’s mummy is inspected with love and respect. (Dr. Paul Koudounaris)

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