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.
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.
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:
Because of the elevation the temperature was cool. The views were at times fantastic.
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:
Now for the cemeteries. Toraja are sometimes buried in holes carved into cliffs like this one at Buntu Pune:
Coffins are sometimes hanging in caves like these at Londa:
or just sitting in caves, like these also at Londa:
Coffins for men are sometimes shaped like buffalo. This one’s at Ke’te Kesu.
Graves are often carved into rocks like you might see in Turkey at Frig or Lykian sites.
At some gravesites you’ll see tautau, carved wooden statues made to look like the people who are buried there. Tautau at Tampang Allo:
Here’s the cemetery at Lokomata,
the one at Suaya,
the one at Lemo,
and more tautau at Londa:
I think this is what’s considered a “modern” grave (at Ke’te Kesu):
There were monoliths around in some places. We never did figure out what they were for.
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.
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!
Bye bye, Indonesia.