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High price of death in Toraja Land

Costly and macabre funeral rites are a dying tradition for Sulawesi's young

A buffalo tied by the nose at Bolu market (Photo by Kit Yeng Chan)

RANTEPAO, Indonesia -- The deep sound of gongs resonates across the hillside as mourners seated on bamboo platforms raise their heads in anticipation. Not so the two dozen or so buffaloes grazing quietly on the slope nearby. But the excited men and women in the assembled crowd know well that soon, one after another, the animals will fall.

All it takes is a strike of the parang -- the Indonesian word for machete -- to the base of their necks. The beasts start bleeding to death, quickly coloring the ground before their hooves crimson. When each buffalo collapses, the men and youngsters cheer loudly, while the mourning women, crouched on the elevated bamboo platform that supports the coffin, release their high-pitched cries of grief to the sky.

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