Rice granaries, with the roof "tongkonan", typical of the country Toraja. Sulawesi, July 2010.
Rice granaries, with the roof "tongkonan", typical of the country Toraja. Sulawesi, July 2010.

Tana Toraja, I'm back

  Indonesia: Sulawesi - July 2010

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation of an article originally written in French. I apologise for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have resulted. If you read French, click on the French flag below to access the original, correct text: 


Rantepao, finally! The ideal place to visit for the villages and rice fields of the Toraja country, called here Tana Toraja. We are almost in the center of the island of Sulawesi.

Review the country Toraja

Since Makassar, it takes more eight hours by bus to arrive in Toraja country, called here Tana Toraja.

The region is so beautiful, and had made such a strong impression on me during my first trip to Sulawesi in 2007three years ago that I decided to return.

I am not disappointed. I spent four fantastic days in Toraja country! Just seeing the slender curve of the roofs again tongkonanI was very happy to see the typical products of the region.

Rice granaries, with the roof "tongkonan", typical of the country Toraja. Sulawesi, July 2010.
Rice granaries, with the "tongkonan" roof, typical of the Toraja country.
A buffalo in the rice fields of Toraja country. Sulawesi, July 2010.
A buffalo in the rice fields of Toraja country.
A becak driver (pronounced "betchak") is waiting for the customer in a street in Rantepao. Toraja Country, Sulawesi, Indonesia, July 2010.
A becak (pronounced "betchak") driver waits for the customer in a street of Rantepao.

Arrival in Rantepao

When I get off the night bus, around 6:30 am, I take Sebastian, the young Norwegian who was traveling in the seat next to mine, to the restaurant Rimanat the north end of town for a well deserved breakfast.

Very good plan. By chatting with the owner of the place, we learn that a funeral ceremony takes place the same day, in Bori, a village situated in the north of Rantepao. He offers us his services as guide, of course.

It's not that we really need him, actually. If we rent a scooter, we can go on our own like adults. But Sebastian doesn't feel much like riding a bike, and I'm used to these little motorbikes With a passenger in the back, I feel less secure.

The day is organized quickly and easily: Sebastian will go up to the back of the motorcycle of our guide, and I rent one of my side that I shall keep several days to be able to walk to my guise. We are going to put our small business in the guesthouse Wisma Monton that I know, two steps from there (it was my drop-off point too, three years ago). Time for a shower, a change of clothes, and off we go!

Ceremony in Bori

It's crowded in Bori. Amazing detail, in this village: there are... menhirs! Finally, standing stones, in the local style.

It is a big ceremony, which lasts several days. The deceased is an important person and the family is visibly rich: about twenty buffaloes and more than a hundred pigs will be slaughtered and butchered during the festivities.

It smells like gravel, burnt flesh... Roasted pig atmosphere, Toraja style! The meat is then served to the guests. What's left over is distributed or preserved.

Funeral ceremony in Bori. Toraja Country, Sulawesi, July 2010.
Funeral ceremony in Bori: it is the day of the grilled pig.

In the Toraja country, the relationship to death is singular. The deceased is kept at home, embalmed, for many months if necessary (sometimes several years, it seems, until enough money is collected), until the day of the official funeral, which is always organized in July and August.

As long as the ceremony has not taken place, the dead person continues to be part of the world of the living. A bit like a person in a coma would be here.

I invite you to reread what I had already written in 2007 on the subject, three years ago, and to view my little video of the time (while waiting to discover the new images I shot in Bori), by following the link below:
→ Tana Toraja, it's stronger than you

Updated on November 28, 2010 : That's it, the video made in Bori is online! It gives a good idea of the atmosphere during these traditional funeral ceremonies in Toraja country. To see it, just follow this link :
→ Funeral Toraja: the video 

Funeral ceremony in Bori. Toraja Country, Sulawesi, July 2010.
Funeral ceremony in Bori. Toraja Country, Sulawesi, July 2010.
Funeral ceremony in Bori. Toraja Country, Sulawesi, July 2010.
Funeral ceremony in Bori. Toraja Country, Sulawesi, July 2010.
Funeral ceremony in Bori. Toraja Country, Sulawesi, July 2010.

Graves

And then, we do not bury the dead among the Torajas.

The graves are dug in the rocks or in the cliffs. Or we put the coffins in natural caves. The highest possible. In some sites, such as those of Lemo or Londa, one can also see tau-tau, the statues representing the deceased. They watch the visitors from the top of their stone balcony.

In Ket'e Kesu, a traditional village near Rantepao, there is a burial site with ancient hanging graves. Eaten away by time and humidity, some of the wooden coffins have come loose.

They now lie on the ground, offering the bones of the deceased to the eyes. The Indonesian tourists, who love to take each other's picture, smile at the lens in front of the skulls. We even take advantage of it to make a group portrait with the French tourist of passage! Yes, the report of the Indonesians to the photo-souvenir is really particular...

Funeral site of Londa. The big game is to take a picture of yourself in front of the bones. Toraja Country, Sulawesi, Indonesia. July 2010.
Funeral site of Londa. The "game" consists of taking a picture of yourself in front of the bones.
Look for the intruder ... Photo session with a group of Indonesian tourists at the Londa site. Toraja Country, Sulawesi, Indonesia. July 2010.
Look for the intruder... Photo session with a group of Indonesian tourists, at the Londa site.
The tau-tau of Londa. Toraja Country, Sulawesi, Indonesia. July 2010.
The tau-tau of Londa.
The caves of Londa, which are also tombs, are visited. Toraja Country, Sulawesi, Indonesia. July 2010.
The caves of Londa, which are also tombs, are visited.
Ket'e Kesu. The hanging tombs on the ground reveal the bones they contain. Toraja Country, Sulawesi, Indonesia. July 2010.
Ket'e Kesu. Hanging graves that have fallen to the ground reveal the bones they contain.

Nothing morbid or sinister about it. At least, that's how I felt. The burial sites around Rantepao are part of the landscape. They are not sad and closed places like our cemeteries. At the bend of a road, a path, at the entrance of a village, in the middle of a rice field, one can come across a big round rock, pierced with graves. Some are decorated with a buffalo head, the Christian cross, topped with a tongkonan roof.

This is the way it is. Death is not hidden. It is part of life.

Falls. Toraja Country, Sulawesi, Indonesia. July 2010.
Tombs by the roadside, in the Toraja countryside.

Return

My first day in Toraja country, with this spectacular funeral ceremony, then the visit of the sites of Ket'e Kesu and Londa, is very similar to the one I had experienced three years ago. A "classic" of the tourist circuits.

But I like this feeling of "déjà-vu". To see again, to rediscover, to relive... To come back to places that I loved is also part of the joys of travel. It's a bit like picking up the thread of the previous journey.

The visit of the sites is finally only a pretext to discover the surroundings. The walk in itself, in the middle of the rice fields, is enough to make me happy. The sun is shining brightly in the early morning and I think to myself that I would not like to be in the place of these small laborious silhouettes that I see bent in the mud of the rice fields, in the middle of the heat wave.

Along the road, the peasants winnow the rice or spread it on tarpaulins to dry it. People greet us happily, others contemplate us with astonished eyes, children make fun of us...

I was right to come back. It is so beautiful!

Paddy fields. Toraja Country, Sulawesi, Indonesia. July 2010.
Church in Toraja Country, Sulawesi, Indonesia. July 2010.
Paddy fields. Toraja Country, Sulawesi, Indonesia. July 2010.
Toraja Country, Sulawesi, Indonesia. July 2010.
The rice fields of Lemo. Toraja Country, Sulawesi, Indonesia. July 2010.

🙄

  Indonesia: Sulawesi - July 2010

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