Thursday, June 7, 2012

Trekking in Tanah Toraja

Just returned from a two-day trekking tour north of Rantepao, with a local guide. The countryside is hilly, with many fields, bamboo forests, and small villages. Everything is bright green, as only rice paddies can be. We followed the walls between the paddies, but it had rained the night before and the paths were very muddy and slippery.

The villages are really just Huddleston of traditional houses with the boat-shaped roofs typical for Tanah Toraja. Most are used to store rice, but we also saw a dozen of them built specifically for a funeral.

Saw a cockfight: a large field surrounded by platform houses, lots of people, and much shouting and money changing hands. Then two cocks with long vicious blades tied to one foot are set upon each other, there is a flurry of wings and feathers, and then just two dead cocks a:de two small puddles of blood. A draw. The next fight had a winner. All this is illegal of course but is a very well-organized and popular event. I guess they just don't invite the police.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Funeral in Tanah Toraja

Got the full ceremony today. The bodies were brought out after resting at home for a year, and pushed up to the family home (pictured - note the peculiar roofs)  one last time before they'll be finally buried. There were hundreds of guests in large wooden pavillons built specifically for this ceremony, plus a couple dozen tourists.

Feeding that many people takes a lot of meat. There were pigs tied to bamboo poles all over the place, and every few minutes one was taken out back to the open fires, screaming and thrashing, before being killed and put on the fire whole. I have never been served pork as fresh as this.

They also slaughtered one of the many buffalo on the grounds: one man held up its head and another cut its throat with a long knife in one fast strike. There was a great splash of blood, the buffalo was struggling soundlessly for a few seconds, before falling down with blood still gushing out its neck. Then they skinned it right there, with a child playing with the tail. Later saw two small children dragging bloody hooves behind them on a string, like a toy car.

Monday, June 4, 2012


Rantepao is a town in the middle of Sulawesi. It's hard to get here; the interior roads in Sulawesi are so bad that it takes three days by bus from one end to the other. There aren't a lot of tourists here and the town doesn't have a lot of tourist facilities, besides a number of simple hotels. Although Rantepao isn't very interesting, the countryside is: lots of green hills, bamboo forests, huge terraced rice fields, women in conical hats threshing rice, and water buffalos plowing.

Today was all about dead people: tradition demands that when someone dies, the body is embalmed and kept for years at home. Then it's buried in an elaborate ceremony - which we missed but will see tomorrow. We did see a cave where the sarcophagi are stored, until they rot away and the bones tumble out, at which point the skulls are tastefully arrangend in niches or piled on flat stones. Lots of skulls. And they put up effigies in a bizarre rock wall into which balconies were hewn. To top it off, in past centuries babies often died young, due to dysenteria and other diseases, and they cut a hole into a tree, put the body in, and closed off the hole. The idea was that the tree grows and carries the baby up. None of these traditions are still followed except the embalming and ceremony bits; the rest sounds a little unhygienic.

I wish Google would hire someone with software experience so I could add a picture. I can't post to Google+ either because every way to post there has some fatal bug.