In times past, when the villages of Tana Toraja were still extremely isolated and difficult to visit, it is said that certain people had the power to make a dead man walk to his village in order to be present at his own funeral. In this way, relatives of the deceased were spared the necessity of having to carry his corpse. One particular area, Mamasa ? West Toraja, was particularly well-known for this practice. The people of this area are not strictly speaking of the same ethnic group as the people of Tana Toraja. However, outsiders often refer to them as Toraja Mamasa. In many ways, the cultures of the two groups are similar, although they each have their own distingushing characteristics. In particular, the style of wood carving of the two groups is different.
According to the belief system of the people of Mamasa, the spirit of a dead person must return to his village of origin. It is essential that he meet with his relatives, so that they can guide him on his journey into the after-life after the ceremonies have been completed. In the past, people of this area were frightened to journey far, in case they died while they were away and were unable to return to their village. If someone died while on a journey, and unless he has a strong magic power, it would be necessary to procure the services of an expert, to guide the dead person back to the village.
This is not intended metaphorically-the dead person would be made to walk from wherever he had journeyed back home, no matter how far away that was. The corpse would walk stiffly, without any expression on his face, in the manner of a robot. If anyone addressed the dead man directly, he would fall down senseless, unable to continue his journey. Therefore, those accompanying the deceased on the macabre procession had to warn people they met on their path not to talk directly to the dead man. The attendants usually sought out quiet paths where the procession was less likely to meet with strangers. These days, the practice of walking the dead back to their place of origin has fallen out of currency.
Good roads now connect the villages of Tana Toraja, and people tend to rely on more conventional means of transportation for bringing bodies back home. The ability to bring the dead back to life has not been entirely forgotten, however. Sometimes, even now, the deceased is made to continue breathing and seems alive until all his relatives are gathered around him.More commonly, the skill is practiced on animals. At a funeral ceremony, when a buffalo has been sacrificed and its head separated from its body, the body is made to get up and walk for as long as ten minutes. A demonstration of this sort proves to the audience that the ability to bring the dead back to life has not entirely passed from the community.