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Tana Toraja

Sulawesi's most celebrates tourist destination is Tana Toraja. Tana Toraja is in more then one way spectacular. The landscape of the valley is beautiful, but the local culture is even more amazing. Entry port of Tana Toraja is Makale.

The building of a typical Toraja house
The building of a typical Toraja house

As said, Makale is the entry port and administrative center of Tana Toraja, the land of the Toraja people. However, it is Rantepao where you want to be.

I arrived in Rantepao not really knowing where to go and what to do. Fortunately this area is touristy and I was picked up at the bus station by a nice guy who brought me to his guesthouse, a basic place but clean. tana toraja

Toraja housesHe also immediately told me I had come at the right time as a funeral was prepared in a nearby village. He could bring me there and show me the other touristy highlights of the valley.

Why not I thought and the next day we left by jeep. The scenery here is spectacular with mountains rising up to over 3000 meters. The local Toraja people are Christians but mix their beliefs with older animistic beliefs. This mix makes them unique in the world.

In the Toraja beliefs the buffalo is an important animal. When a Toraja family builds a house, skulls of the buffalo are placed above the door. The more skulls, the more important the family.

It is the central point in the funeral ceremony which is called Rambu Solo. A funeral ceremony takes days and includes the slaughter of buffaloes. If the deceased was an important person, the amount of slaughtered animals can be dozens. Every visitor to a funeral will bring a buffalo as a gift for the family of the deceased. The animals will all be slaughtered and used to feed the guests of the funeral. What is left at the end of the ceremony will be distributed amongst the guests. Thus, nothing is wasted.

Tongkonan Tongkonan

The bigger the funeral, the more animals slaughtered. But for poor families this can cause problems, especially when there are a few funerals shortly after each other.

Some families can be in serious trouble as the price of a buffalo is high. And this also means that because of the costs a funeral will only take place when the family has enough money, which can take months.

Catching the buffalo during the ceremony in Tana Toraja
Catching the buffalo during the ceremony

I was lucky, when I arrived in Rantepao, I heard there was a big funeral just started. "There will be hundreds of water buffaloes", my guide told me. "It will be big and you will enjoy yourself."

The mourning Toraja familyWhen we arrived in the village it seemed more like a festival then a funeral. The core family was mourning but others were busy with their other activities.

But I was also lucky to arrive on a day the slaughtering had not happen. As there were dozens of water buffaloes, it would be an awful smell to walk around while the animals would be killed.

My guide was a family member and thus I was invited. However, I felt uncomfortable, even making photos felt like an intrusion in the life of these people. But I was assured it was no problem.

Tana Toraja has many typical villages, Pallawa, Siguntu, Marante and Naggala, to mention a few. These villages all have traditional houses decorated with amazing wooden craft work and traditional weavings.

people of Tana Toraja

During a funeral, many people from different villages come together. Thus it is a good moment to renew bonds between families, set up new business relationships and even arrange marriages.

Toraja houses

I spend a day at the funeral. It was an amazing experience, here in the tropical heat of central Sulawesi.

people of Tana TorajaI also realized that although these people claimed to Christians, they had not forgotten their own culture and had found a beautiful mix of Christianity and animistic beliefs based on their own very old culture.

It was certainly the first real highlight of my journey in Sulawesi.

The next day I would explore some of the villages and cave tombs in the area. Here is more about that experience which would only confirm my initial thoughts: the Tana Toraja have found a mix between the 21st century and their ancient culture.

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