Jan 13, 2015
|Happy New Year Everyone! When I first arrived in Bali I had been tuned to CNN, first watching the Air Asia disaster and more recently watching the horrifying massacre in Paris. We are all affected by these tragedies and we are praying for those families directly affected. Je suis Charlie! We have been away from tv this past week so are unsure what is happening.
Friday morning we were whisked away from our hotel in Makassar by our hired guide, Hernan Halim, who we'll spend the next 5 days with in his shinny, black, air- conditioned truck. The moment I saw him walk out of his truck and shake my hand I knew I had chosen the right tour operator- thank goodness!! 5 days with a bad guide can feel like 20! We drove 10 hours north to Para-Para, then west to the central mountainous area of Tana Toraja or Toraja Land. It was a feast for the eyes driving by the sea, the rice paddies, fish farms and then inland towards the cold mountains- only 28*C. Our coffee stop at the Erotic Mountains - 8hrs into our trip, had extraordinary vistas and the best coffee with sousou (sweetened condensed milk).
Much chatter ensued during our 10hr day with many new words in Bahasa . By the end of the day Sunny and I both feel we are now pretty confident in speaking fluent Bahasa!
Our hotel is lovely and very large but only Sunny and I and one other couple are here! They put our names on the welcome bulletin board and there are only 2!
There are very few travel experiences I have encountered that come close to what we experienced today. Perhaps swimming with the Whale Shark, meeting the Komodo Dragons, watching African Wild dogs devour an Impala, and being dusted by the sand from an elephants ears as she stood above us over our jeep in Africa compare to the exhilaration Sunny and I felt witnessing today's events. As for the pictures I am going to post , beware- they are not for the faint of heart and they will be disturbing for some of you.
This is our second day in Toraja Land and Hernim has hired Martin Luther King of Toraja Land to be our guide while Hernim drives. Toraja Land is known for its indigenous people who have elaborate funerals and characteristic mausoleum and cave burials. When people are born in Toroja Land, their life work is in preparation of their death, and more specifically their funeral. They work hard in hopes to make lots of money so they can buy lots of water buffalo and they need to have lots of children and send them away to university so they can make lots of money. When the parent dies, THEIR children will decide on the funeral arrangements (you really don't want to piss your kids off!). What the Toraja believe, is the more Water Buffalo sacrificed at their funeral celebration, the better. They believe the strongest and largest animal will help to ascend them into heaven, and the more that are sacrificed, the faster they will get there. These celebrations can last 4-5 days depending on the wealth of the family. Temporary accommodations are built near the main Toraja home of the family where the coffin is displayed. The family feeds their guests for the five days and in return many guests bring Buffalo, or pigs, or cash to donate to the celebration. There can be up to 600 people attending for the 5 days. It can be a very expensive event, so if the family can't afford the funeral, then they wait until they can, and sometimes it can take years. It just means the body is mummified, left in the casket in the family home in a room specifically for the dead, on North side of home. Here there are given morning and evening greetings with many beverages placed nearby. The family don't regard the person as dead- just sick. Once all the funeral arrangements are decided, date, numbers, etc, the family then realizes their family member is dead and they begin their grieving.
Our day began on day 3 of the celebration. Everyone attending was jovial- very different from the sad funerals we attend. This was the day they sacrificed the Water Buffalo- 10 to be exact. (Our guide attended one funeral where they sacrificed 200 Buffaloes!). The pictures tell the story, but what the pictures don't tell is the heightened exhilaration felt in the crowd every time the appointed villager slit the throat of the Buffalo. The pictures cannot explain the smell of the blood or the fly- frenzie that surrounded each of the corps. They don't share the sound of blood gushing through the throat and the last gulp of air of the mighty Water Buffalo. The meat is divided up for the guests to take home- I guess something like taking a piece of wedding cake home. The next day would have been the burial celebration but our time didn't permit attendance.
What we want to share about this experience is how happy and jovial these people were at this celebration of life. They are not afraid of dying - they know the afterlife in heaven will bring wonderful things. They do not mourn the dead but celebrate their journey. For a few years now, Sunny and I have discussed doing "death" workshops over on Bowen to help prepare for the inevitable. Perhaps this experience may push us in that direction.
I am an animal lover (except cats) but never felt sorry the the mighty Water Buffalos slaughtered that day. There is no wastage of the animal-the meat and organs are distributed, the hide once treated is used to make drums and the horns proudly displayed in front of the family's home. The greater the number of horns, the wealthier the family. The people of Toraja Land only kill Buffaloes at funerals and weddings and not just for daily consumption. The Buffalo we saw sacrificed were treated with respect until the very end, being petted on their heads and rubbed under their chin- almost a ritual in itself.