As an ethnic Torajan in northern Indonesia, Berta Kondorura's transition to the hereafter was supposed to be an elaborate mixture of mourning and tradition-steeped celebration.

Most of the nearly 500,000 Torajans in the Parinding Valley are Christian, according to National Geographic, but their funeral rites trace a direct route to the island of Sulawesi's traditional religion, Aluk To Dolo, or Way of the Ancestors.

The funeral tradition may call for tending to a loved one's body long after death, sometimes even years after. At funerals, which can cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars and extend for days, people dance and sing and feast on pork. Sometimes, water buffalo are sacrificed by villagers.

But first, the recently deceased guest of honor — resting in an ornate casket — is hoisted into an elaborately carved stilt tower known as a lakkian.

It is at that solemn moment that Kondorura's funeral went tragically awry.

On Friday, as many as 20 pallbearers were carrying the red coffin up a bamboo ladder leading to the lakkian for Kondorura, police said, according to the Guardian.

As the male family members edged the coffin into the tower, one of the bamboo pieces holding up the ladder shifted. Men and pieces of ladder tumbled to the ground; some of the pallbearers scurried onto the tower.

The coffin, now vertical and supported by nothing, dropped more than 10 feet to the ground as frightened onlookers stared or screamed.

At the bottom of the mass of people and bamboo and fabric was Samen Kondorura, Berta's 40-year-old son.

He had been near the end of the coffin — one of the last trying to push it up into the tower.

“As the mother’s coffin was being raised to the lakkian, suddenly the ladder shifted and collapsed, the coffin fell and hit the victim,” Julianto Sirait, chief police commissioner of the Tana Toraja municipality on Sulawesi, told the Guardian.

Onlookers tried to dig him out of the pile, but it was too late. Samen Kondorura died on his way to the hospital, according to NDTV.

National Geographic has described Torajan funerals as mostly celebratory affairs “easily outstripping the conviviality of Irish wakes.” To Westerners, they resemble a hybrid of a wedding and a family reunion, complete with bawdy singing, buffalo battles and raucous water fights that leave guests drenched.

As National Geographic wrote:

The spaces between the tongkonan (stilted ancestral homes) are cluttered with squealing pigs bound to bamboo poles, soon to become lunch. Women in slim black-and-white sheath dresses sell cigarettes. A motorcycle vendor hawks Mylar balloons. Sleek, fat water buffalo are everywhere, lounging under trees, standing alongside the road, or being walked in circles by young men who tend them as affectionately as they would pets. A master of ceremonies high in a tower above the crowd addresses a magnificent animal, its huge, gracefully curved horns as wide as a man is tall.
“You are the most important buffalo here,” he says. “You will go with this man to the next world and make him rich.”
A grand Torajan funeral is measured in the number and quality of buffalo, which serve as a form of currency. Everything about the funeral is hierarchical, cementing the status of the dead person’s family, the people who attend, and many who don’t.

For Berta Kondorura's family, the funeral was a chance to showcase its standing in the community — and how much the family cared for its dearly departed.

Instead, police concluded, her son died because of faulty construction.

Sirati told the Guardian that the ladder wasn't properly reinforced by the builders. The family has declined to press charges against whoever built the structure.

Instead, it has turned its attention to the funeral of Samen Kondorura, the newspaper reported. His casket now lies beside his mother's.

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