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Families, Funerals and Facebook: Reimag(in)ing and ‘Curating’ Toraja Kin in Trans-local Times

  • Kathleen M. Adams

The Sa'dan Toraja of upland Sulawesi, Indonesia have long been celebrated in the anthropological literature for their elaborate procession-filled mortuary rituals, which draw vast networks of kith and kin to mourn, memorialise, and reaffirm familial bonds and obligations. Whether residing in the homeland or abroad, most Torajans underscore funeral rites as the most vital expression of Toraja familial and cultural identity. Although some estimates suggest that more Torajans now reside off-island and overseas than remain in the homeland, extended familial funerals in the homeland continue to have a centripetal physical, economic and emotional pull. While various scholars have documented the ways in which remittances from Toraja migrants or the presence of international tourists have transformed Toraja funerals in recent decades, this article focusses on the role of social media in navigating global familial relationships and rituals. Indonesia has the largest number of Facebook subscribers in the world, and this study offers the first exploration of the ways in which Facebook interweaves far-flung familial relationships. This study also examines house-society orientations in the Toraja highlands and addresses the use of Facebook by Torajans in the homeland to cultivate continued allegiances to ancestral houses (around which extended Toraja families are oriented). Finally, this article also examines a large-scale 2012 Toraja funeral in order to spotlight the contours of the Toraja family in the current era of neoliberalism and cyber-technologies. The article offers insights into the ways in which various Torajans navigate social media and non-local corporations to image, reimagine and negotiate familial identities for various audiences (local, national and transnational).

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TRaNS: Trans-Regional and -National Studies of Southeast Asia
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