Kambira Baby Funeral Tradition, the Dead Baby Buried in a Tree

With dozens of tribe and hundreds of traditions, Indonesia is the right place to go if you are craving for an adventure and a glimpse of exotic traditional life. While it is true that a lot of places in this tropical country has developed into an urban community, a lot of traditional villages are still standing and holding their unique tradition as one of their most important aspects of life. One of them is Toraja, a remote regency located in the mountainous area of South Sulawesi, approximately 187 miles to the North of Makassar.

Perhaps what people heard the most about Tana Toraja is its coffee bean that has become one of the best coffee variants in Indonesia. However, Toraja has a lot more to offer, such as their unique burial tradition. The walking corpse has become terrifying as well as unique burial process in Toraja. But in Tongko Sarapung Village, Tana Toraja Regency, you will find a unique burial site for baby, the Kambira Baby Grave.

Buried in a Tree

Upon entering the village, you will see a sign that reads “Baby Grave Kambira”. To reach the grave, you will need to walk down the steps not far from the gate with the sign. Just a few minutes’ walk, you will be greeted with the bamboo trees. Between those bamboo trees, there is a tall tree standing still. At first, the tall, big tree may look like another normal tree. But upon close observation, you will notice small “doors” are attached to these trees.

This is how babies in this village are buried, in the trunk of Tarra Tree. Tarra tree in this village is approximately 300 years old and is considered as huge trees with its 1 meter of diameter. The “doors” are made to cover the hole in the tree where villagers put their dead baby. In Torajan language, burying a baby in a tree trunk is called Passilliran. However, not all Torajan people bury their baby this way, only families that still practice the Aluk Todolo belief do.

Not All Baby can be Buried Here

Although it is called a baby grave, only babies with certain criteria are buried here. Torajan people believe that only pure baby should be buried in this grave. What they mean by "pure" are babies under 6 months old who died before they started teething, was breasted, and not walking yet. They believe that these babies are without sin and therefore should be buried in a special and sacred way as well.

Tarra trees are chosen because it is considered sacred. The spirit of the trees will protect and guide the babies. Meanwhile, the sap they produce is considered as replacement of breast milk for these babies. By burying a dead baby in a Tarra Tree, Torajan people believe that these babies are returned to their mothers’ womb.

Simple Burial Ceremony

The burial ceremony is considered unique but simple. Before the burial ceremony, the family of the baby perform a ritual called Rambu Solo. This ritual is important to help the baby reach heaven quicker and more efficient. During the ritual, the family will offer a sacrifice of pig or other animals.

Meanwhile, the burial process starts by making a hole in the trunk of Tarra tree enough for the body of the baby. Then the baby is placed in the hole without covering the baby with any cloth at all. The hole is then covered with a small door made of palm tree barks. However, although the baby’s body is not covered, there is no foul smell at all coming out from the trees.

The baby buried here are organized based on their social status within the Torajan society. Baby from a family with "higher social status" will be placed higher in the Tarra tree trunk. The tree is now considered as the new mother of the baby. Therefore, the graves were always placed in the opposite direction of the house of the deceased baby.

How to Get There

This unique grave has become a famous tourist attraction in Tana Toraja. To see this unique tradition, you need to go to South Sulawesi by first landing on the Hasanuddin International Airport. Next, head to Kambira village, which approximately takes 7-8 hours of drive, considering that the village is located in a remote area. However, this shouldn’t be a problem since there are convenient buses available that will take you to Toraja both in the morning and night.

Ticket and Opening Hours

The last information about the ticket to Baby Grave Kambira is IDR10,000 (1 USD) both in weekend and weekdays. However, the price may change without notification, and you might want to ask your guide first. It is open 24 hours, but you should come during the day for easy access and interaction with the local people.

Nowadays, not many Torajan people doing this type of burial ceremony for babies. However, the tree is still maintained and has become a tourist attraction over the year. The last baby buried in this Tarra tree was recorded 50 years ago, and there hasn’t been any other burial ceremony yet to this day.