Trip Start Sep 27, 2009
122Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
Tana Toraja is a mountainous region in South Sulawesi which is home to the Torajan people. Legend has it that the Torajan people originally came from main land Asia and came to Sulawesi in boats and settled in the mountains. Until the 20th century the Torajan's practiced animism worshiping animals and nature and lived untouched by the outside world. After the Dutch invaded a lot of the Torajan's traditions disappeared with the introduction of Christianity but a lot of traditions still remain today. The Torajans live in traditional houses called 'tonkonans' which have huge peaked roofs thought to represent buffalo horns and are really decorative. The Torajans most important ceremony is the funeral and this is what they are now most famous for. The Torajans believe without a proper funeral the deceased will cause the family misfortune. The funerals last for a few days, take months of planning and preparation, are really expensive and are a huge events attended by hundreds of people. The deceased are then buried all over Tana Toraja in coffins hidden inside caves or hung in huge cliff caves guarded by wooden carvings of the deceased.
We found a guest house after looking around at a few, they were either really rickety or overpriced so we eventually settled for a place that was pretty average but the cheapest we could find with breakfast included. We went for some dinner and met a local guide who told us about the tours he offered. We don't usually like picking up guides this way but the guy seemed really genuine and he was friendly so we kind of took a liking to him. The next morning we had a look around at some other guides and tour agencies but the prices the guy had told us the night before were the most reasonable and we liked him so we went back and found Duad and told him we would take him up on his offer. The first day we went on a motorbike tour of South Tana Toraja.
The first stop was to the local market which is held once a week just outside Rantepao. The market is held for all the locals to trade produce and buy livestock. The market was really bustling and it was great to have Duad with us as he explained everything to us. The main produce was fresh fruits and vegetables, fish from fish farms and from the rice paddies, coffee beans and sacks and sacks of rice. There was a section selling teuk which is the home brewed palm wine. We bought a bamboo shoot full of palm wine for 50 pence and it tasted great. There were also cocks for sale for cock fighting, cock fighting is where they put blades onto the cocks feet and then watch them fight - nice.
After the produce market we went into the livestock market which was crazy. There was just buffaloes and pigs everywhere. The pigs and buffaloes are the only livestock sold as these animals are sacrificed during the funerals. Buffaloes are the most important animals in the Torajan society as they represent wealth and power. Some of the buffaloes where huge, Duad told us that the albino buffalo is the most sought after buffalo and can be sold for up to 3,000 pound which is a hell of a lot of money in Indonesia. The buffaloes with big horns are also worth more as well as are the buffaloes with paler horns. The locals control the buffaloes with a ring through their nose, they constantly lift up the buffaloes head to make their neck muscles bigger, which is another thing buyers look for in their buffaloes! The pig section wasn't very nice as there were hundreds of pigs strapped to bamboo frames all lined up ready to be transported and piglets in sacks so Em wasn't too impressed! The funniest part was when Chris lost his flip flop in the buffalo pooh and his foot was covered, Duad couldn't stop laughing!
The first village we visited was called Lemo, it was in a beautiful setting with the traditional houses at the entrance and rice paddies filling the valley. Lemo is the best known burial site in Tana Toraja and most famous for cave graves and tau tau. The graves are carved by hand out of the cliff and one grave is built for a whole family, they are 3 metres in depth, height and width. Around the graves were balconies full of Tau Tau's. These are wooden statues that are carved in the image of the dead person, they are made from Jack fruit wood and last for years. It was scary how realistic the statues looked, they all had clothes, hats and even glasses to make them look like the deceased.
The next stop was Londa which is a huge cave in the middle of some beautiful rice paddies. The cave is used as a hanging grave site. Whole families were put in really decorated coffins, taken here and hung up high above the ground away from any predators of the jungle that once lived in Tana Toraja. The coffins are now rotting and most have already fallen down so there were bones scattered all over the place which gave it a really eerie feel. The lower class people who couldn't afford the coffins just bought the bodies and laid them inside the cave so there were huge piles of bones everywhere. There were also more tau tau's overlooking the cave which looked pretty cool, some of them were still in good condition as the families renovate them when they get shabby. The place was really interesting but pretty spooky.
The next stop was the baby grave site. The babies were buried inside huge trees, the belief behind this was the babies would continue to grow and live on as part of the tree. The babies buried in the trees were only young and as long as they had no teeth they were considered to be pure. The babies were buried at night time using only candle light and buried in a hole cut into the tree, the babies were buried standing up. Some of the holes were covered up with doors, where as some of them were starting to close up from where the tree has grown over the years. It was quite a sad site and gave us a strange feeling to think that so many babies were buried here.
After the baby grave we stopped at Kete Kesu which was a traditional Torajan village with huge tongkonans and rice barns which were so decorative. The houses always point North to South as it is believed the first Torajan people came from the North and traveled South to Sulawesi. Buffalo horns and buffalo jaws from previous family funerals are used for decorations, the more buffalo horns the higher class the family. Each tongkonans has a smaller house opposite which is used as a rice barn to hold the families rice, nowadays most families don't live in the tongkonans but all houses still have the traditional rice barns.
Behind the traditional village was a cliff used for hanging graves and some cave graves. Again a lot of the hanging coffins were rotten and had fallen down exposing all the bones on the floor. There were some interesting coffins that had been sculpted like a buffalo and a pig which looked really impressive and some really life like tau tau that were really eerie. After Kete Kesu we headed back to Rantepao. We had a fantastic day and learnt so much, it was so interesting learning about the different culture and beliefs of the Torajan people and Duad was brilliant.
The next day we headed off in a bemo with Duad to a local funeral ceremony that was taking place in a nearby village. It was the first day of the funeral ceremony, which is supposedly the most interesting. The bemo dropped us off and we started walking through beautiful rice terraces to where the funeral was being held. Luckily some family of the deceased were driving past in a truck and offered us a lift so we jumped in the back of the truck with some family members and their offering - a pig strapped to a bamboo frame.
The funeral ceremonies take place in the family village, the family build huge temporary buildings around their house for all the guests, the ceremonial site is called the 'rante'. We were attending a middle class funeral so there was around 400 guests, the higher the class the more guests they have and the more elaborate the funeral. When we first arrived it felt more like a festival as it was really muddy and people everywhere. All the family and friends of the deceased have to bring a pig as an offering so there were streams of people carrying pigs on bamboo frames which was really random, there were also buffaloes everywhere as the immediate family have to provide a buffalo as their offering. Animals are sacrificed during the ceremony as the Torajans believe that souls of animals should follow the deceased to the next life.
At the start we were invited into one of the temporary buildings by the son of the deceased to have lunch. Lunch was rice and pork cooked in bamboo which tasted great. It was really nice sitting with all the locals sharing the food, none of them really spoke English but Duad helped translate. After lunch it was time to show off the buffaloes, the owner of the buffalo brings them in to the middle to show them off whilst everyone looked on. The son of the deceased choose a buffalo to sacrifice which is the official start of the ceremony. A buffalo was chosen and killed, it all happened really quickly but wasn't very pleasant. They blindfolded the buffalo and were dragging him around pushing him over. Everyone was laughing and jeering and then one of the men just slit his throat, the buffalo was then left to die in the middle of the path, it was really sad. In an average funeral 40 buffaloes will be sacrificed over the 3 days, in a high class funeral up to 100 buffaloes will be killed!
After the buffalo sacrifice the procession started. The coffin was in the middle of the rante and it needed to be moved to another temporary building they had built which is where the coffin would be kept for the next 3 days. The coffin is kept inside the family home from the day of death until they have enough money and are prepared for the funeral ceremony, this usually takes a few months but can be years! The female family members walked in front of the coffin chanting, whilst the men carried the coffin across the rante. It seemed like a big joke as all the men were jeering and shaking the coffin up and down and falling over, it was all a bit strange to be honest but it was all part of their tradition.
Once the procession had finished it was time for all the family and friends to make their offerings. More buffaloes were 'shown' and all the pigs were carried through and laid in the middle of the rante. Family and friends were also lead into the temporary building to share gifts with the immediate family, men are usually given cigarettes and ladies given tea and biscuits. We had to bring a donation to the funeral too, we bought 10 packs of cigarettes and a bag of sugar. A group of men from another village also did a performance which was really atmospheric, they stood in a circle and did like a chanting song which was really good.
Once all the offerings had been made, the children of the deceased walked around and made notes of all the donations, who bought what and what size. This is to enable them to return the gift to the family at another ceremony of the same value so no-one misses out, it is all very political. The children of the deceased then chose which pigs are to be sacrificed and which ones they want to keep. Around 100 pigs were bought to the funeral on the first day, 80 of which got sacrificed and the others were kept to be sold to provide some money for the family to help pay for the funeral.
We went around to the back where the pig sacrifices were taking place. The pig sacrifices aren't done in front of the audience like the buffalo, it is just done by the owner of the pig and then the meat shared out accordingly. We couldn't believe our eyes when we walked around the corner. There were pigs everywhere being killed, their insides being pulled out by hand, pigs hung over the fire burning off their hair and then being cut up and dished out. The people who donated the pig get to take half the meat back home with them so there were sacks of pig chopped up all over the place. We saw a few pigs getting killed which wasn't a very pleasant experience as they are intelligent animals so we are sure they knew what was going on, the noises they made were horrendous. It was okay until one huge pig got bought in, a young lad tried to stab it but didn't get to his heart properly so the pig make this noise that will haunt Em for the rest of her life, at this point someone else came and put the poor pig out of his misery but that was then enough for us!
For the rest of the day guests would continue to make their offerings, more pork would get cooked and they would continue to celebrate. The remaining 3 days are also similar with more buffalo and pig sacrifices and more offerings. It was just a unique experience and really surreal one. We had to keep reminding ourselves it was a funeral as it was all so random but was great to experience a Torajan funeral and again we learnt so much about the culture it was really fascinating.
The next day we went trekking in North Rantepao. We started trekking at 9am and caught a bemo to the start village. Duad lead at the front and straight away the scenery was amazing, all around us were mountains were covered in rice paddies, with the odd village in between. We walked for a few hours through the rice paddies and Duad told us loads about the local people and the landscape. The land is passed down from generation to generation and can't be bought or sold. The Torajan's grow mainly rice to provide for their families but they also grow sweet potatoes, coffee and cocoa, which they can trade in the market. There are four different kinds of rice grown in Toraja, white, red, sticky and black. Rice is really important to the Torajans as they eat it 3 times a day, each family keeps a stash of black rice for when they have important guests. A few other animals call the rice paddies home, there are snails, fish, leaches and surprisingly huge eels!
We stopped for lunch and ate our rice and chicken with a cracking view over the paddies. Duad had some chopped up chillies, and said "these are for me, very strong". The challenge was there so Chris had ago they were really really hot and Duad was eating it by the spoonful!! After lunch we carried on trekking, mainly up hill but nothing too difficult. The views didn,t stop coming every time we came out of a little patch of forest we were greeted by a amazing view, there are rice paddies as far as the eye can see, they were so green it looked fantastic.
We finally arrived at a little village where we would be spending the night. We watched the villagers go about their day from the house balcony, we were staying with a local family with four children. The Dad didn't speak any English but was very friendly and the family made us feel really welcome. We had a much needed wash in the village spring which is their only source of water, they channel the water from the river through lengths of bamboo. The view from the spring was amazing over the valley, best bathroom view we have ever seen anyway!
At night we had a traditional Torajan meal, it was chicken mixed with garlic, onions and banana tree and of course rice. We had been told all over SE Asia that the banana tree was really tasty but this was the first chance we had to try it and it was really good. After dinner we sat in the houses main room and chatted to Duad while he translated to the family for us. There is no electricity in the village so the villagers go to bed when it gets dark and get up when the sun rises. Our bed was just a mattress on the floor but was comfortable enough and we were nackered so it did the job.
The next morning we were woken up by the family dogs barking like mad. We had breakfast and set off back through the rice paddies. We walked through more and more stunning rice terraces which looked slightly different from the day before as they had huge boulders scattered in the middle of the terraces. Duad said the boulders were from a volcano that erupted thousands of years ago, some of the boulders had been hollowed out and were being used as graves. We passed lots of cave graves and house graves throughout the two days, we even saw Duad's family grave in the middle of one of the rice paddies!
The last part of the trek was through traditional Torajan villages. All the locals we passed were really friendly, on one break two old ladies were talking to Duad, we got the impression they were talking about us so we asked Duad what they were saying...they were commenting on Em's red face and Chris big nose, charming!!! When she found out Duad has told us she gave him a little punch but found it hilarious! We got back to Rantepao in the afternoon after a Bemo ride back. The trek was really good and so so beautiful. It was great to see completely different scenery and again Duad taught us loads!
The whole four days in Tana Toraja were absolutely amazing and a lot of that was to do with Duad, he was great. We would recommend him to anyone, he is such a nice guy, so polite, friendly and really knows his stuff, you can find him in the Rimik Restaurant. We had such a great time in Tana Toraja, its a absolutely fascinating place with really unique culture with loads to see and do. The people are really friendly and welcoming and we had the best time. Sorry it was just a long blog so if you are still reading it now then we are very impressed, we just learnt so much and we didn't want to forget what an amazing experience we had - it was absolutely brilliant.