Tana Toraja: beautiful views, curved roofs, and unusual cemeteries

Tana Toraja is undoubtedly Sulawesi’s biggest tourist draw.  The Toraja are famous for their unusual funeral practices.  Many tourists come just to see a funeral, which, conveniently for us, largely take place in the dry season — July and August.  Now you’re wondering — how is it that people only die in the dry season?  Well, for the Toraja the most important part of their life is death.  Families spend a long time saving money to pay for elaborate funeral ceremonies, and during this waiting time they don’t have a problem keeping the body (to them the person is sick, not dead) in the house with them while they procure the necessary resources which may take months or even years.

The path to paradise is arduous so the Toraja need many pigs (to guide them) and buffalo (to carry stuff), sacrificed at their funeral.  And I think maybe it’s these gory sacrifices that many tourists come to see.  Ferda and I did happen upon funerals two different days: once in Sa’dan where they were really more in the preparation phase and once in Bori where we saw a dead buffalo being hacked into pieces, a dead pig being roasted with a blowtorch, and what looked like a tug-of-war match with the casket.

I think the dead person is in here.  There seemed to be two teams who were pulling back and forth like a tug-of-war match.  There was an announcer, announcing like a sporting event. by bryandkeith on flickr

What most disturbed Ferda was that the first buffalo were slaughtered right in front of the other buffalo that were to be slaughtered later — no blindfolds, no sheet or tarp or wall or any sort of separation.  We met a British tourist who came to witness a funeral ceremony because he’s sure this tradition won’t exist 10 years from now.  Good riddance, according to Ferda.

Ferda and I came to Toraja to enjoy the good views — terraced rice paddies, mixed in with the oddly shaped Toraja houses, and mountain backdrops.

20180702_120408 by bryandkeith on flickr

20180702_124507 by bryandkeith on flickr

20180702_143607 by bryandkeith on flickr

20180702_132713 by bryandkeith on flickr

20180702_134921 by bryandkeith on flickr

20180702_135055 by bryandkeith on flickr

20180703_141402 by bryandkeith on flickr

You get the idea.

Add to that the unusual cemeteries, and there was certainly enough to entertain us for five days of exploring.

Our original plan had been to come over the pass from Batusanduk and stay in Sa’dan where we’d been assured there was plenty of accommodation.  We could then continue on via another decent climb to Batutumonga and stay there before descending to the big, loud, crowded city of Rantepao.  It was a great plan, and I’d recommend trying to stay in Batutumonga for anyone coming to Toraja, but the lack of accommodation in Sa’dan meant we descended all the way to Rantepao the first day and ended up staying there the entire week.

We explored some days by bicycle, and a couple days we rented a small motorcycle (scooter).  The scooter was a fun break from the bicycles and allowed us to visit places that we wouldn’t have been able to reach in one day on the bicycles.  Here’s Ferda using a scooter for the first time:

It's Ferda's first time driving a scooter. by bryandkeith on flickr

20180705_112614 by bryandkeith on flickr

Because of the elevation the temperature was cool.  The views were at times fantastic.

20180705_115638 by bryandkeith on flickr

20180703_154731 by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20180706_115506 by bryandkeith on flickr

At one point cruising along on the scooter on a smooth road with no traffic with the cool breeze through the beautiful scenery, Ferda pointed out that it was like we were in a movie, one of those scenes that you imagine doesn’t really exist or is impossible to find.  She was exactly right, and I’ll remember some of those moments as the most blissful of our trip, similar to the high we had sitting in the hot sun after snorkeling in Tomia.

Check out the road through the terraces in the middle of this photo:

20180705_145629 by bryandkeith on flickr

20180705_120241 by bryandkeith on flickr

Now for the cemeteries.  Toraja are sometimes buried in holes carved into cliffs like this one at Buntu Pune:

20180703_111632 by bryandkeith on flickr

Coffins are sometimes hanging in caves like these at Londa:

IMG_20180706_133508 by bryandkeith on flickr

or just sitting in caves, like these also at Londa:

This is what they must mean by natural cave burial (Liang Lo'ko') by bryandkeith on flickr

Coffins for men are sometimes shaped like buffalo.  This one’s at Ke’te Kesu.

This must be an erong.  We know it's for a man because it's in the shape of a buffalo.  For a woman they're shaped like a pig. by bryandkeith on flickr

Graves are often carved into rocks like you might see in Turkey at Frig or Lykian sites.

20180705_111136 by bryandkeith on flickr

At some gravesites you’ll see tautau, carved wooden statues made to look like the people who are buried there.  Tautau at Tampang Allo:

IMG_20180707_124223 by bryandkeith on flickr

Here’s the cemetery at Lokomata,

20180705_123214 by bryandkeith on flickr

the one at Suaya,

20180707_131751 by bryandkeith on flickr

the one at Lemo,

20180703_153611 by bryandkeith on flickr

and more tautau at Londa:

IMG_20180706_133343 by bryandkeith on flickr

I think this is what’s considered a “modern” grave (at Ke’te Kesu):

I think this is a modern grave (patane). by bryandkeith on flickr

There were monoliths around in some places.  We never did figure out what they were for.

I never really did understand what these monoliths are for. by bryandkeith on flickr

Ok, sick of graves, I’m sure, but what about when a baby dies?  Well, they used to be put in carved spaces in live trees whose white sap would nourish the baby like mother’s milk, and the baby would go on to grow with the tree.  It’s my understanding this practice stopped sometime last century, and babies are now put in the family grave.  This is the tree at Sarapung.  You can see the doors where the bodies were put.

20180707_125508 by bryandkeith on flickr

Tana Toraja was our last stop in Sulawesi and our last stop in Indonesia before flying back to Turkey.  Of course we wanted to eat some good food before we left (for full disclosure, I should say we spent a night in Makassar before our flight and found an excellent Korean restaurant there).  Since there were so many dead buffalo around, Ferda was clever and ordered a buffalo steak.  I chose the ceker rica rica.  I knew rica rica was a yummy sauce, but I figured I’d just be surprised by ceker.  Well, surprised I was!  Chicken feet!

I saw something new on the menu -- I recognized the name of the sauce: rica rica, but what a surprise when the chicken feet arrived at our table! by bryandkeith on flickr

Ferda was clever and ordered buffalo steak.  It ought to be cheap since there are so many buffalo being slaughtered at these funeral ceremonies. by bryandkeith on flickr

This fruit seller spends his day drinking ballo (palm wine), or at least that's what he'd been doing on the day we bought three durian from him. by bryandkeith on flickr

IMG_20180706_153700 by bryandkeith on flickr

20180705_144138 by bryandkeith on flickr

Bye bye, Indonesia.

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