Toraja people believe that babies died before they grew any teeth are pure and without sin, therefore they need to be returned to the cradles of Mother Nature. A Tarra tree is chosen for its white sap resembling mother’s milk, became a rampart as the baby is laid there without any covers.
The people of Toraja have many varied burial practices, but the one that most intrigues tourists visiting the region are the tree burials. These burials, where a deceased baby is interred within living trees, can be seen in the village of Kambira.
Tree burials no longer occur in Toraja. The last recorded tree burial happened more than 50 years ago. This unusual form of burial practice was reserved for babies who died before they started teething. Following the death of a baby a shallow recess would be scraped into the living tree.
The dead baby would be wrapped in ferns and interred in the living tree. Torajans believed that the practice of entombing the dead baby within the tree would return the infant back to nature. To cover the burial site palm tree bark would be wrapped around the entrance forming a sort of door.
Over time (and all of the graves at Kambira are over 50 years old) the tree grew around the entombed baby. The trees normally used for these types of graves were jackfruit trees, because Torajan culture believed that babies who did not live long enough to grow teeth had soft bones like the flesh of jackfruit. Such young babies were also considered to be holy or pure.
When a baby was interred in a tree the position of the tomb was carefully selected. The tree where the baby was to be buried was considered to be the new mother of the deceased infant. For this reason, the graves were always placed on the opposite side of the tree to the house of the parents of the deceased baby.
Visit Kambira and you will see that the forest surrounding the village is full of these corpses. Some of the trees have multiple corpses in them, but all of them are looked after. It is an important part of the Torajan culture to take care of the deceased.