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 made from a post originally written in French. My apologies for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have been generated during the process. If you are reading French, click on the French flag below to access the original and 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 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 country! Just seeing the slender curve of the roofs again 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 "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 is waiting for the customer on 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. 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 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 ride on the back of our guide's bike, and I will rent one on my side that I will keep for several days to ride as I wish. We'll put our little things in the guesthouse... Wisma Monton that I know, a stone's throw away (it was my drop point too, three years ago). Time for a shower, to change, and drive!

Ceremony in Bori

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

It's a big ceremony, lasting several days. The deceased is someone important and the family is obviously 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's roast pig day.

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 reread what I wrote in 2007 on the subject, three years ago, and to watch 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 that reigns 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 funeral site with ancient tombs suspended. Worn away by weather and humidity, some wooden coffins have been unhooked.

They now lie on the ground, offering the bones of the deceased for viewing. Indonesian tourists, who love to take each other's pictures, smile at the lens in front of the skulls. We even take the opportunity to make a group portrait with the French tourist! Yes, the relationship of 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. The hanging tombs on 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, enclosed 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 how. Death is not hidden. She 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, followed by a visit to the sites of Ket'e Kesu and Londa, is very similar to the one I experienced three years ago. A "classic" of the sightseeing tours.

But I like this feeling of "déjà vu". Coming back, rediscovering, reliving... Coming back to places I loved is also part of the joys of travel. It's a bit like going back to the thread of 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's 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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  1. Even without fish, I like it! 😈
    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.
    So keep riding local buses, mob, sleeping in small pensions... but don't forget the fish! 😉

  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. Nice pictures. We want to go there. 🙂
    What you say about the "déjà-vu" is very true. The fact of rediscovering, reliving, that feeling of familiarity, that of reconnecting with another piece of yarn when all this could have remained just a parenthesis. Good point 😉 Especially since, in the end, all those threads make a nice scarf. 😆

  5. @Malene: The Toraja Country has remained rather authentic, it's true, but Europe and the USA are very much the dream of the young, and not so young, here. And even in the rice fields of Batutumonga, I was asked if I was on Facebook... 😆 Globalization is everywhere!!!
    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.
    8)

  6. Facebook in Toraja country! 😮 but also access to the Internet, and therefore "updates" of your blog... 😀 And you have to live in your time and accept progress with its good and bad sides!

    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 I even wondered if it was his great grandfather's. 😮
    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 .
    Again, I feel like the sense of attachment to the physical real is missing. Imagine razing our house to the ground to rebuild it... 😡 ...complicated?
    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.
    The advantage of the papiong compared to all the snacks is that it serves you at the same time as a guard, a walking stick and a repellent for the buffalos that you do not fail to meet in the rice fields 😉
    (Have you noticed the clear superiority of Toraja red rice nasi goreng, over the ordinary pale nasi putih... And if you're ever in Makassar again, take a trip to Kios Semarang, the best Nasi Goreng in the world... 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!
    Agnes

  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!
    8)

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