The walking corpse of Tana Toraja (zombie Research)

an interesting topic that deserve a read i think, link to the picture of the corpse here >


Posted by: David Marks in UncategorizedZOMBIE REFERENCE MATERIAL 0

We have had considerable interest in the research we have done regarding the “Walking Dead of Tana Toraja.”  (Past articles for reference are HERE and HERE). So much so, that we felt it deserved further investigation.  And what we have dug up is fascinating, leading all the way from Indonesia to Great Britain.

Just to recap.  A photo surfaced a while back on the internet, that was reported to be the photo of what was described as a “Rolang” (you can view that photo HERE)– which literally means “the corpse who stands up.”  It was suggested that it was a photo taken of a funeral ritual in which the body of a dead person, who had died and was mystically revived (likely by a shaman) so that they may walk back to their place of birth, and be “buried” there.

Additionally, information included that the walking corpse was accompanied by a handler and was generally using specific paths where there would be little traffic.  These paths were generally more or less straight– and the walking corpse would walk  purposefully on his or her course.  Should him or her and the handler encounter anyone on their way, the person was to make no effort to touch or communicate with the deceased.  Should that occur, the body was said to collapse (or disappear).

All of this, of course sounds pretty incredible, and once again, in the name of science, pretty unbelievable.  But what is fascinating is how these rituals came about, why this is still so widely believed, and how they have migrated half way around the globe.

In Toraja society, death rituals are more important than life rituals. So the funeral ritual is a most elaborate and expensive event. The richer and more powerful the individual, the more expensive the funeral. In their animism belief system, only nobles have the right to have an extensive death feast.

Animism is the worldview that natural physical entities—including animals, plants, and often even inanimate objects or phenomena—possess a spiritual essence.Many animistic cultures (including that of the Toraja people) observe some form of ancestor reverence. Whether they see the ancestors as living in an other world, or embodied in the natural features of this world, animists often believe that offerings and prayers to and for the dead are an important facet of maintaining harmony with the world of the spirits.

As this ritual is so important, it can take, in some cases months or even years for the family to save enough funds to pay for the elaborate ritual.  The deceased are wrapped in cloth and preserved (in their “sleeping stage”), usually using formalin (essentially formaldehyde)– though a variation of leaves was used historically.

When the dead are eventually laid to rest, they are placed in a cave or in a carved stone grave, or hung on a cliff or mountain/hill.  Why a cliff??  Because that’s where the Hyang is found (more on the Hyang below).  Suffice it to say, it is a powerful supernatural spirit.

This brings us to the spiritual connection of the “walking dead.”

First, let me say that I in no way believe, that there are corpses walking between villages and towns in Tana Toraja.  Sorry– that might disappoint some people, but we are not a  sensationalist organization– we do aim to investigate and educate.  I do believe that the “walking dead of Tana Toraja” is a melding of two traditions or rituals.  It’s easy to see how this could happen when a few language and cultural barriers are crossed.

The actual transportation of the deceased between villages, etc, along what can be described as “corpse roads” in English tradition (also explained further down)  to their places of birth (as is Tana Toraja tradition) was likely engulfed in spirituality and superstition.  I can not imagine it would make sense to carry the dead upright (as if they were standing) and made to appear to walk.  Horizontal transportation makes the most sense.  I could see that touching the dead could cause consternation for the superstitious people though.

The actual “walking” part of the dead appears to happen during the ritual of Ma ‘Nene’ (The Ceremony of Cleaning Corpses).  Out of  respect for their dead and afterlife, the boxes containing the dead are removed from the tombs (every few years), the corpses are removed from the boxes, and are cleaned and re-dressed.  Damaged boxes are fixed or replaced.  In videos I have seen (including the one in this previous article), the dead seem to be exhibited and paraded around, as if they they were alive.

I have recently discovered that this same tradition is practiced in places like Madagascar, where the viral disease of the bubonic plague is still highly present.  (The bubonic plague is better known as the “Black Plague or Death” of the 14th century that killed as many as 200 million people.  Thought to be irradiated, it is still prevalent in many places in the world (including parts of the US)).  It is believed that the fleas and virus (on rats) that carry the disease can continue to live on the corpse for perhaps several years, and when the body is exhumed for cleaning, etc, the virus is transferred to those of the living.


Hyang is an unseen spiritual entity that has supernatural power in ancient Indonesian mythology. This spirit can be either divine or ancestral.  In modern Indonesian this term tends to be associated with gods, devata, or God.

Hyangs are believed to inhabit high places, such as mountains, hills, and volcanoes. These  mountainous regions are considered as sacred realm, as the abode of gods and the resting place for the soul of the ancestors.

Hyang are said to only move in straight lines. Accordingly, for example, traditional Balinese buildings have a wall called an aling-aling just inside the doorway, which keeps the spirits out because they only move in straight lines, and hence bounce off. Similar beliefs are found in other spiritual traditions, as in British corpse roads.

British Corpse Roads

Corpse roads provided a practical means for transporting corpses, often from remote communities, to cemeteries that had burial rights, such as parish churches.  In Britain, such routes can also be known by a number of other names: bier road, burial road, coffin road, coffin line, lyke or lych way, funeral road, procession way, corpse way,etc. Such “church-ways” have developed a great deal of associated folklore regarding wraiths, spirits, revenants, ghosts, etc.

These roads’ purpose was much like those used in Tana Toraja– but for slightly different reasons. Differing Catholic ministers instituted corpse roads connecting outlying locations and their mother churches (at the heart of parishes) that alone held burial rights.  For some parishioners, this decision meant that corpses had to be transported long distances, sometimes through difficult terrain.  Usually a corpse had to be carried unless the departed was a wealthy individual.

The essence of deep-rooted spirit lore is that supposed spirits of one kind or another – spirits of the dead, phantasms of the living, wraiths, move through the physical landscape along special routes. In their ideal, pristine form, at least, such routes are  conceived of as being straight, having something in common with ley lines. By the same token, convoluted or non-linear  features hinder spirit movement i.e. labyrinths and mazes.

Interestingly, many of these Corpse Roads/Church-way paths are now major roads in England.

By the way, ley lines are straight hypothetical lines that some believe connect magnet fields and or energy to a complex grid, and have been used by everything from the Egyptians and Druids to aline structures and roads, to nature itself.

Spirits or ghosts were said to fly along on a direct course close to the ground, so a straight line connecting two places was kept clear of fences, walls, and buildings to avoid obstructing the flitting specters. The paths would run in a straight line over mountains and valleys and through marshes. In towns, they would pass the houses closely or go right through them. The paths end or originate at a cemetery; therefore, such a path or road was believed to have the same characteristics as a cemetery, where spirits of the deceased thrive.

The corpse roads were left unploughed and it was considered very bad luck if for any reason a different route had to be taken.

So, aside from creating winding road that would keep the spirits and dead from coming back, other minor ritualistic means of preventing the return of the dead person included ensuring that the route the corpse took to burial would take it over bridges or stepping stones across running water which spirits could not cross. The living took pains to prevent the dead from wandering the land as lost souls or animated corpses, for the belief in revenants was widespread in mediæval Europe. Another widespread custom, for example, were that the feet of the corpse be kept pointing away from the family home on its journey to the cemetery.

Here’s a nice “zombie-esque” reference: In Ireland, the féar gortach (“hungry grass”/”violent hunger”) is said to grow at a place where an unenclosed corpse was laid on its way to burial. This is thought to be a permanent effect and anyone who stands on such grass is said to develop insatiable hunger. One such place is in Ballinamore and was so notorious that the woman of the nearby house kept a supply of food on hand for victims.

Corpse Candles

A corpse candle or light is a disembodied flame or ball of light, often blue, that is seen to travel just above the ground on the route from the cemetery to the dying person’s house and back again, and is particularly associated with Wales. A corpse fire is very similar, as the name comes from lights appearing specifically within graveyards where it was believed the lights were an omen of death or coming tragedy and would mark the route of a future funeral, from the victim’s house to the graveyard, where it would vanish into the ground at the site of the burial. The appearance was often said to be on the night before a death.  Other names for this phenomenon are will-o’-the-wisps, Jack O’ Lantern, St. Elmo’s Fire.  Natural explanations have been hypothesized for this phenomenon, including ball lightning, swamp gas, and even barn owls.

By the way, Corpse roads or paths have been found all over the world, not just Britain and Tana Toraja.  They have also been found in places like Costa Rica, Sweden, and China.

So, concluding this essay…

Some of the rituals in Tana Toraja do not seem so isolated.  There appears to be an interesting coincidence (or spreading) of phenomenon and/or beliefs that goes beyond that country.  Straight lines of energy and spirituality seem to play an interesting role and their similar beliefs in the dead and deceased.  The ritualistic burying and exhuming, celebration and then re-burying seems to be a tradition that flies in the face of the fear of dying– or maybe a snub.  There are no walking dead wandering through the jungles of Tana Toraja, but the traditions are very real, and still celebrated.  To these people, their ancestors never die.  Death is something they do not fear.  Maybe there’s something Western Society could learn.  I don’t think it’s a good idea to dig up grandma every year or two and change her into a new nighty, but there is something deeper at work here that we could learn.

Or, the cynical side of me says it’s just all great for tourism.


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