Friday May 24, 2019

The Tojarans of Indonesia dig up dead relatives to celebrate Ma’nene Festival

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The ritual, known as MaiNene, involves exhumed up dead family members, cleaning them and re-dressing them. Image source: dailymail.co.uk
  • Every three years the Ma’nene Festival takes place
  • Loved ones unbury the deceased, clean them, and parade them around the village
  • This practice helps them maintain the relationship between life and death

Here, rest, is an operative word. The Tojarans let their deceased loved ones rest in more than one place. Expensive burials are part of the tradition. A large space in the village is cleared out so that a proper burial can be completed. Once the body has been buried, these natives of Indonesia believe that the soul of the deceased lives on in the village for days after the death. All of these traditions seem normal, but the Tojaran people want to make sure their loved ones feel as though they are part of the family long after they have died.

In fact, every three years they up heave them from their graves, clean off the corpses and then parade them around as part of the Ma’nene Festival. The population consists of 650,000 people, many of whom are Christian or Muslim, some still practice the ancient beliefs of “Aluk Todolo.” What may come across to many as a peculiar ritual is a way that the Tojarans strengthen the bond between them and their deceased loved ones. On the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia, the indigenous people celebrate life.

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The ceremony has its ancient roots in a story involving a man by the name of Pong Rumasek. An animal hunter, Rumasek came across a decomposing body under a tree. Not having been properly buried, the animal hunter took it upon himself to do so. Dressing the corpse in his clothes, and then giving it the proper burial it deserved, Rumasek went on his way. After his actions, he was convinced he was graced with good luck. Thus, ‘the ceremony of cleaning corpses,’ or the Ma’nene Festival, was born.

Torjajan Girls. Wikimedia Commons
Torjajan Girls. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

These mummified bodies are well kept. After death the bodies are prepared with formalin. This chemical helps mummify the body, and is the initial step to making sure that later on the body can be dug up to celebrate. Once the body is dug up, loved ones dust and clean them. The family members also make sure that artifacts, such as a pair of glasses, are preserved and cleaned as well.

The clothing on the body is changed and loved ones have intimate moments with the corpses. While the corpses are out of their burial sites, coffins are either replaced or repaired. Once the corpses are dressed in their more modern attire, they are paraded around the town but only on paths that create straight lines. It is believed that by following straight lines the people will be connected with Hyang. Hyang is a spiritual being with mystical powers that only moves in straight lines.

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This ritual is considered to be one of the most important rituals in the village. Burials can be expensive, and many of the people save up money their whole lives so that they may rest in peace properly. The Tojarans also understand certain precautions must be taken when handling the corpses. Many wear masks so they do not breathe in the dust from the exhumed bodies.

The expensive aspect from this ritual does not stem from the maintenance of the corpse. Rather, sacrifices are made, and with these, the more the merrier. In one case, a tourist witnessed 17 water buffalo sacrificed for just one woman. Interestingly this woman had already been dead for over 20 years.

The practice of up heaving the dead from their graves comes across as appalling to many. When reading about the practice you come to realize that it is purely out of love and respect that the corpses are paraded around. These indigenous people see it as including the deceased into their lives long after they are able to participate.

-by Abigail Andrea, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter: @abby_kono

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Blacklisting Muslim Brotherhood Could Complicate US Diplomacy

Designating Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization could pit the United States against new potential enemies

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FILE - Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood set things aflame to block a street during clashes with Egyptian forces following their protest against the government in Cairo's Matariya district, Egypt, June 30, 2015. VOA
 Designating Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization could pit the United States against new potential enemies in the Muslim world, experts say.

Analysts argue the designation could hamper U.S. Middle East diplomacy and efforts to promote democratic change in the region.

“For America to write off this important part of politics in the Middle East is really to hobble any kind of intellectual debate and the freedom of American diplomats to operate in this region,” said Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

“America is going to throw a major spanner [wrench] into the works of any kind of democratic and political evolution in the Middle East if it does this,” he told VOA.

blacklisting, muslim, US
FILE – President Donald Trump meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in the Oval Office of the White House, April 9, 2019. VOA

The reaction came after the White House recently said President Donald Trump is mulling over designating Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization.

“The president has consulted with his national security team and leaders in the region who share his concern, and this designation is working its way through the internal process,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in an email to reporters.

Egypt’s efforts

The U.S. announcement came nearly three weeks after a visit by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to the White House.

El-Sissi, who toppled former President Mohammed Morsi in 2013, has outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood and thrown Morsi and many of the group’s leaders in jail.

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Morsi was the first Muslim Brotherhood president who came to power after winning the 2012 presidential elections in Egypt. Morsi had led the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

But since assuming power, el-Sissi has been urging U.S. officials to label the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two Sunni powers in the Middle East, also have been lobbying Washington to designate the Islamist group.

‘Neo-conservative team’

blacklisting, muslim, US
FILE – Supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi chant slogans and raise an image of him after the Muslim Brotherhood called on its supporters to take to the streets on the anniversary of the 2011 uprising, in Cairo, Egypt, Jan. 25, 2016. VOA

During the first weeks of his administration in 2017, Trump had considered the designation but then dropped the idea.

The current U.S. national security team, however, has been in favor of targeting Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, some analysts charge.

“President Trump has got this new national security team with [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo and [National Security Adviser John] Bolton. This is a much more neo-conservative crowd than the first year of Trump’s [presidency],” Mideast expert Landis said.

“So it’s possible that they could actually entertain the idea of supporting Egypt, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates in sanctioning the Muslim Brotherhood and designating them,” he added.

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Fawzi Soufiane, a Tunisia-based expert on Islamist movements, says there are more radical groups in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East that the U.S. should consider targeting.

“For example, there are Salafis in Egypt who are much more radical than the Muslim Brotherhood. So clearly any potential designation of the Muslim Brotherhood won’t be effective in terms of combating terrorism in the Middle East,” he told VOA.

“The Muslim Brotherhood is perhaps the least violent group when it comes to the political spectrum of Islamist parties,” Soufiane said.

Extremist ideology

blacklisting, muslim, US
FILE – Muslim Brotherhood members are seen behind bars during a court session in Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 2, 2018. VOA

The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928 in Egypt, is a social, religious and political organization that promotes a governance system run by Islamic law.

The Sunni Muslim group has dozens of affiliates across the Muslim world. Although it has used violence to achieve its political objectives in the past, the group currently eschews such actions.

But some experts believe that the Islamist group continues to promote its agendas through violence by aligning itself with more extremist organizations.

The Muslim Brotherhood “has been funding and supporting extremist groups through an extensive network of humanitarian and political organizations in Syria, Libya and elsewhere,” said Majdi al-Daqaq, editor-in-chief of October magazine, a pro-government publication in Cairo.

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“Even if we assumed that Muslim Brotherhood is not involved in armed violence, it is still active in promoting extremist political ideology throughout the region,” he told VOA in a phone interview.

Al-Daqaq added that the Muslim Brotherhood “also has direct ties with the Palestinian militant group Hamas,” which is a U.S.-designated terrorist organization.

Financial networks

Designating Egypt’s oldest Islamist movement a foreign terrorist organization would allow Washington to impose sanctions on any individual or group with links to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Experts say targeting the group’s financial networks overseas could undermine its activities in the Middle East.

“If the U.S. could target the Muslim Brotherhood leadership by sanctioning powerful individuals who have been working with the organization in Middle East, Europe and North America, then the group would be harmed significantly,” said Shafeeq Mamdouh, a political commentator based in Alexandria, Egypt.

“This is a group that heavily relies on funding and donations from Muslim groups in and outside the Middle East. So their financial transactions abroad need to be disrupted,” he added.

What next

If the White House decides to label the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization, it must prove that the group engages in terrorist activity against the U.S. or its interests.

The secretary of state then would have to consult with the attorney general and the treasury secretary before making the designation official.

U.S. Congress would have seven days to review the designation, choosing either to block or allow it. (VOA)