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 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.


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.


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

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. Even without fish, I like it! 😈
    I like this kind of story, which makes you realize that there are still corners of our planet where everything isn't "globalized", and where people maintain a way of life that isn't based on the USA or Europe.
    And also, the way you tell your story counts! It's clear that you haven't just stepped off a tourist bus following a hyper-organized and necessarily "a bit" sanitized tour during which we may see a lot of things, but we see them a bit like on TV, with a great distance between reality and reality.
    So keep riding local buses, mob, sleeping in small pensions... but don't forget the fish! 😉

  2. magnificent!!
    these roofs are extraordinary, the landscapes are super beautiful, I love it when you can mix diving and land!
    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 "déjà-vu" is spot on. The fact of rediscovering, reliving, that feeling of familiarity, that of renewing the thread with another piece of yarn when all this could have remained just a parenthesis. Good point. 😉 Especially as, in the end, all these threads make a pretty scarf. 😆

  5. @Malene: It's true that Toraja country has remained rather authentic, but Europe and the USA are the stuff of dreams for the young and not-so-young here. And even in the rice fields of Batutumonga, I've been asked if I'm on Facebook... 😆 Globalization is everywhere!!!!
    That said, there's nothing too unpleasant about tourism in the region, even for groups or people who have arranged everything in advance with a tour operator. In fact, it's easy to meet the people in the villages and rice fields, whether you prefer to travel "independently" or on an "organized" tour. Local guides who explain customs to foreign visitors, who take charge of groups, do this very well, I think...
    Anyway, I'm currently in Lembeh, and I'll try to post a few fish pictures by tomorrow, but I can't promise anything, the internet is slow and so is my computer (I've got lots and lots of pictures that should please you a lot). After that, I'm going back to Bangka, and then I won't have internet for a few days... You'll just 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 theories for the peculiar shape of the roofs of the houses here: it may evoke a boat, in memory of the people who arrived by sea and then settled in the region; or it may symbolize the horns of the buffalo, a very important animal in the life of the peasants. Last but not least, this very special shape, made up of a stack of bamboos, has the virtue of keeping the interior cool during the day, and warm at nightfall.

    @Nathan: Thanks for the "pretty scarf"... Yes, that feeling of familiarity is really nice.

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

    As for the Lembeh photos, I think there are a few of us waiting for a small sample of your encounters, but those who have been there (at the Divers Lodge) know that the wifi is rather slow... (but then again, we're not going to complain, wifi in this remote area is miraculous!

  7. It's our turn to travel with you. And what a pleasure it is... Our empathy doesn't go so far as to ache all over when we think of the hours spent on the bus. Sublime photos... Thank you, we're off to Lembeh with a click to read your next article.

  8. I was already a traveler and diver before learning about your blog, but you've awakened new desires in me.
    You have the art of writing (it's good to be a journalist) and of conveying emotions with the right words that suit you.
    Wow, Toraja country, 4 days to dry your skin before you grow scales...a culture apart, atypical rituals in the middle of a postcard setting!
    I can't take as much time off as you do, so it's a good idea to work at Ouest France... you have time to vary your pleasures underwater and on land.
    Toraja country, Lembeh and other corners of Sulawesi will wait....thanks to you my next destination is BALI. I decided to go there recently after being won over by Malaysia!
    Good luck and pleasure to read the rest of your journey.

  9. Yes, that's what I felt in Toraja country, that strange relationship with death, a kind of familiarity at all times.
    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 wasn't his great-grandfather's. 😮
    To philosophize is to become accustomed to my death... hmmmh? Montaigne?

    The Toraja certainly don't understand the feeling of "definitive loss" that we Westerners usually associate with death. I have the impression that this is valid on other levels too, including physical possessions. ❓
    Being sensitive to so-called primitive art, I bought some real, transportable pieces of tongkonan houses, wooden panels... real painted wonders, in Toraja country nearly 10 years ago. Unlike in other regions, the Toraja are not attached to their houses either; they sell them as you would get rid of them, just as every two years, the Toraja family house is completely razed and rebuilt from scratch.
    Here too, I feel that the sense of attachment to physical reality is absent. Imagine razing our house to the ground and rebuilding it... 😡 ...complicated?
    Curiously, the painted wood panels I bought will probably have lasted longer than several generations of rebuilt houses. 8)

    I hope you've done some trekking through the villages, especially around Batutumonga at the foot of Mount Seasean. It's a great pleasure to arrive in a village at the bend in the road and, on leaving, be offered a few bamboo papiongs filled with red rice. The traveler's gift to satisfy his cravings along the way.
    The advantage of papiong over all other snacks is that it serves as a pantry, a walking stick and a repellent for the buffaloes you're bound to encounter 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 a few 'good' addresses, if you have any others to provide (sleeping, eating, drinking, diving...), I'd love to hear from you... My journey starts from the south to the north! 30 days to discover this island.
    Thank you in advance!

  11. @ Malene: In fact, I've been having a little trouble with my computer, and then I ran into some nice people with whom I've been chatting in the evening instead of getting down to business... So I haven't been posting as often as I thought I would from over there, despite the wifi. So I'm going to make up for it now that I'm home!!!

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

    @Lisemet: I'm so happy to awaken new travel desires in you!!!! Have a nice trip on my Petites Bulles d'Ailleurs and happy 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 hasn't been back in the area... But don't worry, you'll find all your good addresses on your own. Selamat jalan!