Break From the Law travel blog

This traditional buffalo head graces all of the traditional houses, or tongkonen.

Note the chicken on top of the bull. Traditionally the Torajan people...

A wood carving of a bull's head is commonly seen on the...

A bull being given/offered from a friend to the family of the...

A traditionally dressed girl at the funeral festivities.

Traditionally dressed girls at the funeral festivities.

The grounds of the funeral cermony in Bori. It almost looks like...

A bull being given/offered from a friend to the family of the...

A traditionally dressed boy and grild during the funeral procession in Bori.

A funeral procession at the funeral cermony in Bori.

A traditionally dressed girl at the funeral festivities.

A traditionally dressed girl at the funeral festivities.

A traditionally dressed boy at the funeral cermony in Bori.

A pig being offered as a present/offering to the deceased family from...

A pig being offered as a present/offering to the deceased family from...

A bull being given/offered from a friend to the family of the...

The slaughter of a pig is customary during the funeral festivities.

The pig's remains after the slaughtering at the funeral ceremony.

A funeral procession at the funeral cermony in Bori.

Mourners line up to pay respects in a procession at the funeral...

A traditionally dressed mourner at the funeral cermony in Bori.

Vikki & I with a traditionally dressed village chief.

Traditional housing of tongkonan in Tana Toraja.

Traditional housing of tongkonan in Tana Toraja.

Traditional housing of Tongkonan in the village of Parinding.

Traditional housing of tongkonan in the village of Parinding.

Traditional housing of tongkonan in the village of Parinding.

Traditional housing in the village of Parinding. Bulls & their horns are...

Traditional housing of tongkonan in the village of Parinding.

Traditional housing of tongkonan in the village of Parinding.

The traditional village of Parinding.

A grave we passed outside of Parinding.

A grave we passed outside of Parinding.

Ornamentation on tomb in motif of "Pa'tedong", shaped like a buffalo head....

A burial ground we passed outside of Parinding.

Ornamentation on tomb using a traditional Torajan motif.

A burial ground we passed outside of Parinding.

A burial ground we passed outside of Pariding of ancient monoliths.

Vikki & I by some monoliths at a burial site outside the...

This is used to carry a dead body from the cermonial site...

Weavers at work in Sa'dan.

Tongkonan in Sa'dan village.

Tongkonan in Sa'dan village.

A woman in Sa'dan village.

A traditional "modern" Torajan house next to mausoleum for family member.

A prized Torajan asset: a fat albino buffalo with many black spots....

A prized Torajan asset: a fat albino buffalo with many black spots....

Torajan mock bullfight which we observed for a few minutes en route...

The buffalo who "won" the mock bullfight which we observed for a...

A Torajan grave carved into a boulder.

A Torajan grave carved into a boulder.




It is around 9 p.m. I’m sitting on the front porch of our communal sleeping room at Mama Siska’s Homestay, located in the village of Batutumonga here in Tana Toraja. We have packed a lot into our day today, a fact made even more suprising when one considers that we didn’t even arrive at our hotel in Rantepao until slightly after 3 o’clock this morning.

Upon waking up this morning at around 8, rather than spend the day easing into our new surroundings, we jumped right into things. At around 10 a.m., over breakfast at Duta 88’s restaurant we organized a tour with a local guide - affiliated in some way with our hotel - to take us to some of the area’s highlights and help us to see first hand some of the very unique aspects of Torajan culture.

First and foremost, “highlight” here in Tana Toraja invariably means attending a funeral, Tana Toraja style. Tana Toraja is famous for the elaborate funerals of its residents. Funeral preparations are a focal point of life here, and the funeral of an individual is the biggest event of an individual’s life. Funerals are also very expensive, and families will save money for many years to prepare for an elaborate funeral and tomb for departed kin. As a result, it is sometimes the case that funerals are not held for many years after an individual’s death.

We did not have very far to go upon leaving Rantepao to find a funeral being held today, traveling to the nearby village of Bori. August and early September is generally the main funeral “season” in Tana Toraja, but as luck would have it, we are here only a couple of days after the end of Ramadan. Sporadic funerals are still being held during this time, as Sulawesians working on other islands in the Indonesian archipelago return home during their week off from work - the week marking the end of Ramadan is a public holiday in much of Indonesia - to hold funerals for departed love ones.

On the way to Bori, we began to pass a series of traditional villages, each dominated by a number of tongkonan towering over the rest of the village. Before today I had never seen firsthand anything the likes of these tongkonan. While some residents still live in these elaborate dwellings, which look straight out of the pages of National Geographic, modernization has relegated many of the tongkonan to mere storage units which lie adjacent to newly constructed homes. Think of the detached tool shed or garage located next to our own homes, and this is probably something comparable in terms of their role today here. These are also used as elaborate graves, although this seems far less common than as a storage unit based on what I saw today.

During our entire drive late in the morning to Bori, I couldn’t get it out of my head that we would be “crashing” a funeral imminently. The idea we would play tourist at a funeral simply struck me as really odd. As we parked our car in Bori and walked over to the series of tongkonan in the village of Bori where the funeral was being held, however, my hesitancy quickly abated. This was no ordinary funeral, but rather, something more akin to a county fair. Loudspeakers blared, hundreds of mourners dressed in a mix of traditional mourning attire and modern clothing sat and milled about, handlers paraded several bulls about the couryard in the center of the funeral, a number of pigs - tied to poles and laying on the ground - had been placed in the courtyard as offerings, vendors outside sold “gifts” of cigarettes and other nick-knacks for mourners to give to the family of the departed and waiters served food and drinks to the guests. This was a funeral?

Anyway, we walked around the packed funeral grounds and then took seats obtained for us by our guide. The funerals here are generally 4 day affairs, and we were here on the second day of the ceremony. We sat and watched the goings-on in amazement, eating the snacks and coffee served to us by the family of the departed. We spent a couple of hours just taking the funeral all in before leaving Bori. The whole idea of having one’s funeral be the most important event in an individual’s life is hard for me to stomach philosophically, but it certainly made for a fascinating experience to observe a part of the Torajan funerary ritual.

After leaving Bori, we stopped off for a look at the village of Pariding, with its picturesque tongkonan, before continuing on to the village of Sa'dan. Sa'dan is well known for its weaving, and Vikki picked up a couple of items there. Continuing on our drive to Batutumonga, we stopped in a village to watch a mock bullfight between two bulls which had gathered quite a local crowd. However, moments later the bulls' handlers separated the bulls from one another, and we continued on our drive.

Along the road at about this point, we started noticing a number of elaborate graves. It is not just the funeral here in Tana Toraja which is a big deal. Rather, the graves of the departed are often also quite elaborate in scope. These graves varied enormously, from being tombs in giant boulders to occupying entire tongkonan in which a picture of the departed sat front and center on the structure. One almost has to see these grave sites to fathom them!

We continued our drive up into the surrounding hills, driving past large numbers of local graves scattered amidst very scenic rice farm terraces, to the village of Batutumonga. Here I got out of our jeep hire and walked several hundred meters up a dirt road to Mama Siska’s, a local homestay that had come highly recommended by one of the other tourists we had met while in the Togean Islands. Upon my arrival, Mama Siska, the 50-something year old proprietor, welcomed me and confirmed that she did indeed have space for us.

Here at Mama Siska’s homestay, I feel like we are really experiencing the local Torajan culture. After our arrival, Mama Siska proceeded to go out to her garden and pick vegetables to cook with our dinner tonight. And the food Mama Siska prepared was delicious. Given the homestay’s price of around US$8 per person per day for room and board with 3 meals, we can’t find a better travel deal than this! Although we’ve only been here a few hours, we’re already enjoying our experience here very much.

Today has been an absolutely unforgettable day for me. Tomorrow we will be checking out some of the local highlights around Batutumonga and staying with Mama Siska for an additional night, so it should be an interesting day as well...



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