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 Google translation from a post originally written in French. My apologies for the weird sentences and the funny mistakes that could have been generated during the process. If you can read French, click on the French flag below to access the original text:

Rantepao, finally! Ideal base for shining in the villages and rice paddies of the country Toraja, 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 area is so beautiful, and made me feel so strong when my first trip to Sulawesi in 2007Three years ago I decided to go back.

I am not disappointed. I spent four fantastic days in Toraja! The only fact of revisiting the slender curve of the roofs tongkonan, typical of the region, made me warm to the heart.

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.
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 driver (pronounced "betchak") is waiting for the customer in a street in Rantepao.

Arrival in Rantepao

When I get off the night bus at around 6.30 am, I train 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. While chatting with the patron of the place, we learn that a funeral ceremony takes place the same day, in Bori, a village located a few kilometers north of Rantepao. He offers us his services as a guide, of course.

It's not that we really need him, actually. By renting a scooter, you can go alone like grown-ups. But Sebastian does not feel like driving a bike, and I'm used to these little ones motorbikes local, I still prefer to be alone on it ... With a passenger in the back, I feel less assured.

The day is organized quickly and easily: Sebastian will climb to the back of the bike of our guide, and I rent one of my side that I will keep several days to be able to walk as I wish. We will put our little things at the guesthouse Wisma Monton that I know, a few steps away (it was my starting point too, three years ago). Time for a shower, to change, and roll!

Ceremony in Bori

There is a crowd in Bori. Amazing detail, in this village: there are ... menhirs! Finally, erected stones, in the local style.

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

It smells like grease, burnt flesh ... Grilled pig atmosphere, Toraja fashion! The meat is then served to the guests. What remains is distributed or preserved.

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

In the Toraja country, the relationship to death is singular. The deceased is kept at home, embalmed, for long months if necessary (sometimes several years, it seems, time to raise enough money), 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 continues to be part of the world of the living. A bit like a person in a coma.

I invite you to read again what I already wrote on the subject, three years ago, and to watch my little video of the time (while waiting to discover the new images which I shot in Bori):
→ Tana Toraja, it's stronger than you

Update of November 28, 2010: That's it, the video made to Bori is online! It gives a good idea of the atmosphere that reigns during these traditional burial 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.

Fallen down

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 funeral site with ancient tombs suspended. Worn away by weather and humidity, some wooden coffins have been unhooked.

They are now lying on the ground, offering to the eyes the bones of the deceased. Indonesian tourists, who love to take pictures of each other, smile at the lens in front of the skulls. We even take the opportunity to make a group portrait with the French tourist passing through!

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. The hanging tombs on the ground reveal the bones they contain.

Nothing morbid or sinister in all that. In any case, that's how I felt it. The burial sites around Rantepao are part of the landscape. These are not sad and closed places like our cemeteries. At the bend of a road, of a road, at the entrance of a village, in the middle of a rice field, one can fall on a big round rock, pierced with tombs. Some are decorated with a buffalo head, the Christian cross, a Tongkonan roof.

This is how. Death is not hidden. She is part of life.

Falls. Toraja Country, Sulawesi, Indonesia. July 2010.
Tombs at the edge of the road, in the countryside toraja.


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

But this feeling of "déjà vu" I like. Revisit, rediscover, relive ... Returning to places I have loved is also part of the joys of travel. It's a bit like taking over the previous journey.

The visit of the sites is only a pretext to discover the surroundings. The walk in itself, in the middle of rice fields, is enough for my happiness. It's sunny in the early morning and I tell myself that I would not like to be in the place of these little laborious figures that I see bent in the mud rice paddy, in full sun.

Along the road, the peasants win the rice or spread it on tarpaulins to dry it. People greet us cheerfully, others look at 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.

: roll:

  Indonesia: Sulawesi - July 2010

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  1. Même sans poissons, j’aime bien! 😈
    I like this kind of story that makes you realize that there are still corners of our planet where everything is not "globalized", and where people maintain a way of life that is not modeled on the USA or Europe.
    And also, your way of telling account! It is clear that you do not go out of a tourist bus following a highly organized circuit and necessarily "a little" sanitized during which we see perhaps many things, but we see them a little like on TV, with a great distance between reality.
    Alors continue à te balader en bus locaux, mob, à dormir dans des petites pensions… mais n’oublie pas les poissons! 😉

  2. magnificent!!
    they are amazing these roofs, the landscapes are super beautiful, I like when you can mix dives and ground!
    Keep on going!

  3. I discover with wonder the atypical form of the roofs of the houses of this region ... a functional reason or a symbolism peculiar to this architecture ❓

  4. Chouettes photos. On a envie d’y aller. 🙂
    C’est très juste ce que tu dis sur le « déjà-vu ». Le fait de redécouvrir, revivre, cette sensation de familiarité, celle de renouer le fil avec un autre bout de fil alors que tout ça aurait pu ne rester qu’une parenthèse. Bien vu. 😉 D’autant qu’au final, tous ces fils font un joli foulard. 😆

  5. @Malene: Le Pays Toraja est resté plutôt authentique, c’est vrai, mais l’Europe et les USA font beaucoup rêver les jeunes, et moins jeunes, ici. Et jusque dans les rizières de Batutumonga, on m’a demandé si j’étais sur Facebook… 😆 La mondialisation est partout !!!
    That said, tourism is not too unpleasant in the region, even for groups or people who have stalled everything in advance with a tour operator. In fact, it is easy to meet people in the villages and rice paddies, who prefer to travel as "independent" or "organized". Local guides who explain the customs to foreign visitors, who support groups, do that very well, I find ...
    Finally, I'm currently in Lembeh, and I'm going to try to post some photos of pigeon by tomorrow, but I promise nothing, the internet reams and my computer too (I have lots and lots of images that should really please you). After, I return to Bangka, and there, I will not have internet for a few days ... It will still have to wait!

    @Laurence: Ah, that, yes! The Toraja Country is really a beautiful region. I still have to tell my adventures on the road to Batutumonga, in the mountains with rice terraces ... In a next post!

    @auxBulles: There are two particular theories of the shape of the roof of houses here: it would evoke a boat, in memory of the people arrived by the sea, who then settled in the region; or else it would symbolize buffalo horns, a very important animal in peasant life. Finally, this special shape, consisting of a pile of bamboo, has the virtue of keeping the cool inside during the day, and the heat at night.

    @Nathan: Thank you for the "pretty scarf" ... Yes, this feeling of familiarity is really nice.

  6. Facebook en pays Toraja! 😮 mais aussi des accès à Internet, et donc des « updates » de ton blog… 😀 Et il faut bien vivre à son temps et accepter le progrès avec ses bons et ses mauvais côtés!

    For the photos of Lembeh, I think we are a few to expect a small sample of your meetings, but those who went there (at Divers Lodge) know that the wifi is rather slow ... (but again, we do not Will complain, the wifi in this isolated corner is miraculous!

  7. It's up to us to travel with you. And with what pleasure ... The empathy will not go until to have pain everywhere while thinking about the hours spent on the bus. Sublime photos ... Thank you, we start with a click find you in Lembeh with the reading of your next article.

  8. I was already a traveler and a diver before knowing your blog but you arouse in me new desires.
    You have the art of writing (it's good to be a journalist) and transmit emotions with the right words that are like you.
    Wow the country Toraja, 4 days to dry your skin before scales grow ... a culture apart, atypical rites in the middle of a postcard decor!
    I can not take as much leave as you, it is the good plan to work at Ouest France ... you have the time to vary the pleasures underwater and terrestrial discovery.
    The country Toraja, Lembeh and other corners of Sulawesi will be waiting ... .with you my next destination is BALI. I decided recently after being conquered by Malaysia!
    Good luck and pleasure to read the rest of your journey.

  9. Yes, that's what I had felt in the Toraja country, that odd relationship with death, a kind of familiarity all the time.
    At the least feast, we cut up buffaloes and pigs.
    Very small, we play in the middle of skulls and bones, like miniature Hamlet: in this photo http://www.pbase.com/luko/image/80582019 je m’étais même demandé si ce n’était pas celui de son arrière grand père. 😮
    To philosophize is to accustom oneself to my death .. hmmmh? Montaigne?

    There is certainly on the part of the Toraja, the misunderstanding of the feeling of "permanent loss" that we Westerners usually associate with death. I have the impression that this is valid on other levels as well, including for physical goods. ❓
    Being sensitive to primitive art, I bought in Toraja country almost 10 years ago, some real transportable pieces of tongkonan houses, wooden panels ... real painted wonders. Unlike other regions, the Toraja are not attached to them either, they sell them as one would get rid of them, just fall to the moment when every two years, the Toraja family home is completely shaved and rebuilt all new .
    Là aussi, j’ai l’impression que le sentiment d’attachement au réel physique est absent. Imaginons raser notre maison pour la reconstruire… 😡 …compliqué?
    Curiously, the painted wood panels I bought will probably have lasted longer than several generations of rebuilt homes. 8)

    I hope you have done some treks through the villages, especially on the side of Batutumonga at the foot of Mount Seasean. It is a great pleasure to arrive at a bend in a village and to go back and be offered a few bamboo papiggs filled with red rice. The gift to the traveler to support en route to his cravings.
    L’avantage du papiong par rapport à tous les en-cas, c’est qu’il te sert à la fois de garde manger, de bâton de marche et de repoussoir pour les buffles que tu l’on ne manque pas de rencontrer dans les rizières. 😉
    (As-tu remarqué la nette supériorité du nasi goreng au riz rouge Toraja, par rapport aux pâles nasi putih ordinaires.. Et si jamais tu repasses à Makassar, fais un tour au Kios Semarang, le meilleur Nasi Goreng au moooonde… si,si!!!… 😛 )

  10. Hello Ludovic ...

    I'm leaving for Sulawesi next Thursday!
    I see from your post that you know some 'good' addresses, if you have others to provide (sleep, eat, drink, diving ..), I'm taking ... My journey from south to north! 30 days to discover this island ..
    Thank you in advance!

  11. @ Malene: In fact, I had little problems with my computer, and then I came across nice people with whom I chatted at night instead of getting busy ... So I did not post that often that I thought to do it from there, despite the wifi. So, I'm going to catch up now that I'm back !!!

    @isa (etmarco): Thank you for your virtual company !!! It's a pleasure.

    @Lisemet: I am very happy to awaken new travel desires in you !!! Good ride on my Bubbles Elsewhere and good bubbles in Bali ...

    @ Wet & Sea / Ludovic: Thank you for this long testimony, which actually join my own impressions. As I'm not a big walker, I went back to Batutumonga like three years ago, but on a motorcycle ... an epic episode, with puncture, that I'll tell soon!

    @ Agnes Ludovic is not ironed in the corner ... But do not worry, you'll find your good addresses for yourself. Selamat jalan!