the misterious Mummy in Toraja

The mysterious mummy in TORAJA
As you go from Rantepao to Makale, and from there on to the Pongtiku Airport at Rantetayo, you turn right and gradually climb up a road that takes you through a myriad of the most spectacular panoramic views. Ask the villagers for the village of Dende, and they will direct you. You need good transport for this track, since the road turns into a gravel and stone dirt road after you have progressed a few kilometers from Rantetayo. Especially during the wet monsoon, make sure you take a four-wheel drive jeep or a trail motorcycle and a guide.

The road that leads up to Dende takes you through the glowing hills near Makale and Madandan, which turn into rugged mountain ranges, with steep terraced rice fields and breathtaking views. The vegetation gradually changes from luscious green in the valleys to softer and more modest green in the mountains where mostly pine trees (buangin) and mountainous ferns grow. Nature, as anywhere in Toraja, is abundant and you will have a good chance of spotting some of the many species of raptures common to Toraja, such as the Brahminy Kite or the Crested Serpent Eagle.

In the village of Dende, you ask to see the Village Head (Kepala Desa) and he will show you the mummy which is kept in his house. The mummy is said to be over a hundred years old, and the villagers claim it is a child. The head, though, is surprisingly small for the body, and it looks more like a tiny adult rather than a child. It is a neatly dressed human being of about 90 cm whose skin in still intact, with perfect and slightly protruding teeth and somewhat thinned hair. Its bent fingers pop out from under the sleeves and the villagers keep putting coins in its hands as a sign of reverence or hope for good fortune and blessing. The people who gathered around us as we were taking photographs, said that the mummy used to be 10 cm taller and that it used to fit perfectly into its little red 'cradle'.

Everyone wonders about the mummy. Why has it shrunk, and why has it never shown signs of decay? As far as the villagers can recall, it has never given off any smell either. An explanation might be that in the olden days, before the introduction of Christianity, the body of the "sick person" was treated according to animist Aluk To Dolo rules so as to prevent the body from decaying. This practice was continued even after the arrival of the Dutch missionaries, but then it was done by injecting formaline. Nobody we spoke to, however, could confirm either version, and the story of the shrunken mummy remains a mystery.