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What does a Funeral Have to do with Eating Animals?

Selamat malam!


At the beginning of our Dragons trip, our instructors discussed the differences between comfort, stretch, and panic zones. Before we arrived in Tana Toraja, where our X Phase would take place, the I-team showed us a TedTalk on funerals. Offerings, especially animal sacrifices, are a significant part of Torajan funerals. Animal sacrifices demonstrate the wealth of a family, honor the dead through a multi-day celebration, and bind community members to one another through offerings of pigs for sacrifice. For example, if I bring a pig to your grandfather’s funeral, you have to bring a pig of the same size and weight when a member of my family dies. In this way communities remain deeply connected to one another in both life and death.


Yesterday, our group went to a traditional funeral and, while I knew there would be animal offerings,  I was not prepared to witness the amount of animals being sacrificed. I was in my panic zone for the first time in Indonesia. Seeing the bloody buffalo heads on the ground, and pigs strapped to bamboo poles squealing to be released, and then being slaughtered, was a tough experience. Once an animal was killed, it was prepared for cooking and sharing with guests. While this extreme situation made me uncomfortable, it also enabled me to delve deeper into Indonesia’s culture and reflect on my life in the United States, particularly surrounding our relationship to meat and its consumption.


In Indonesia, the water buffalo and pigs are fed a healthy diet from the land and the animals have a symbiotic relationship with the earth. I respect the Torajan belief that animal sacrifices exemplify the wealth of a family and honor the dead. The Torajans participate in animal sacrifices as part of traditional belief systems and their funeral ceremonies enabled me to contemplate my eating habits of meat in America. It is important to make the distinction that I admire that the Torajans have a sustainable ecosystem and that the animals they eat and sacrifice are raised differently than most animals in America. My reflection takes into account my own experiences back home and who I want to be in that environment when I return given that the meat industry in America is wasteful and serves no spiritual purpose.


At home, I consume chicken and fish almost everyday. I do not consume meat such as pork or beef as frequently. I still have a lot to learn about the meat industry in the States, but I know that producing a pound of beef takes, on average, 1,800 gallons of water. Unlike some places in Indonesia, the majority of America does not have a sustainable relationship between the animals and the planet.


Tana Toraja is challenging my own beliefs not only regarding social norms about human death, but also about eating meat. I know that here the number of animals slaughtered for a festival is not an everyday occurrence and when it does happen, every part of the animal is used and shared among community members. That’s not the case in America. So, I suggest that we all take the time to research the ways in which food reaches our plates and the purpose it serves.


~ Annie


P.S. Here is the link to the TedTalk that we watched.