The Indonesian Walking Dead
Toradja people do practice something akin to the rising of the dead. It seems that the people believe that death is a long process, sometimes taking years as the deceased gradually work their way toward Puya (the afterlife). Very elaborate measures must be taken during the funeral to ensure that the loved one makes it safely to that destination.
Because the funeral arrangements are so extensive, they are also very expensive. For this reason, a body is sometimes placed in a temporary coffin. During this time, the family can accumulate the necessary funds to pay for a proper funeral, which includes a cave or hanging casket, a multi-water buffalo slaughter, chanting, singing, music, stone and wooden effigies to protect the soul during travel, and so on.
Once the funds are raised, so is the dead. It seems that the Toradja genuinely believe that the dead are able to walk themselves to their new burial site. More likely, and what we are seeing depicted in the picture, is that the somewhat mummified corpse is removed from its temporary coffin and transported upright to the permanent site. As “corpse walking” is part of the tradition, the body is held in the standing position to simulate ambulation.
They say the corpse is agreed using black magic. They do this because the cemeteries are in mountain regions, so no one wants to lead the deceased to the place they must walk alone.
The body follows, guided by an “expert” in black magic, which takes them to the site. However there is a rule, if called by name, the body falls and will not raise again.
Around 1982 one of the Necrorealists found in a secondhand
bookshop a 1900 Russian edition of a book by the
Austrian forensic physician Eduard von Hofmann entitled
Atlas of Legal Medicine. They became mesmerized
by the book’s pictures of corpses and injured bodies, stories
of violent deaths that occurred in and around Vienna at the
turn of the century, and scientific explanations of the causes
of death and especially the transformations that took place
in the cadavers in the following days. Despite its unusual
content, the book looked like an exquisite art album that
evoked distant places and times; it had a beautiful leather
binding, fine color drawings, and old print fonts, and its pages
were yellowed with time.
Before they bought the book, the group’s activities had often focused on the body, involving strange clothes, nakedness,
insane behavior, etc., but now, remembers Kustov, they
“spontaneously stumbled on a corpse” and quickly developed
an interest in violent death, injuries, and processes of decomposition.
Corpses in the book were represented vertically to
simplify the reading of the wounds by medical students. This
orientation had an additional effect: “The vertical rotation
transformed the cadaver into a kind of a dead living being,
neither dead nor alive. This in-betweenness [promezhutochnoe
sostoianie] was very interesting. I called them noncorpses [netrupy].”
This effect made it easier to link the images of the cadavers into a narrative.
- Necro-Utopia: The Politics of Indistinction and the Aesthetics of the Non-Soviet by Alexei Yurchak
Human remains — constructing the ‘Under the Skin’-exhibition