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Torajan Village

A short flight or a scenic and interesting eight-hour drive through Bugis villages, coastal fishing villages and the Toraja foothills brings visitors up to the verdant Toraja highlands or Tana Toraja where the almost flourescent green of the rice fields are dotted with distinctive saddle backed houses. Known as Tongkonan, these houses are said to echo the horns of the buffalo, that are an inseparable part of the Torajans

Toraja people enjoy great longevity-surely something to do with the cool climate and active lifestyle from infancy to old age. They spend their lives growing excellent fragrant rice, raising magnificent buffalo, especially the highly valued pink albino strains. Their work is interspersed with dramatic ceremonies. Harvest festivals and house warming festivals, are times for feasting and a gathering of the clan, times to wear their best costumes and jewellery, bring out the tuak (a local brew) and party for days on end, times for singing and dancing and, of course, eating. These are also times for neighbours and clan members to pay their respects and to pay back obligations that may date back generations.

Most sensational of all the Toraja ceremonies are the funerals, especially the ceremonies for highranking aristocrats. In Toraja a person is not considered dead until this last ceremony and the soul is released to the heavens. It is this celebration that is so absorbing.

Toraja Graves

While funeral ceremonies occur all year round, the best time to see them is in the drier months of August and September. Some of the big ceremonies are so large that over 100 buffaloes are killed. Although it may seem to visitors an abundance of buffaloes are sacrificed, few Torajans eat meat every day, and festivals are one of the rare chances to enjoy the opportunity.

The Torajans believe that aristocrats must be buried between heaven and earth - hence their spectacular grave sites. High up in the limestone cliffs are set tombs, carved out of solid rock, and guarded by human effigies called tau taut Watching sightlessly over the rice fields, they guard the souls of the deceased.

Some of the most impressive grave sites are accessible from RANTEPAO, most of the sites are easily accessible.

LONDA: The best-known site is Londa (4 km from Rantepao), where a balcony of tau tau guard the entrance to two impressive caves filled with brightly decorated coffins, while all around them skulls and bones lie on the rocks.

LEMO: At Lemo (12 km from Rantepao), the towering cliff face is filled with graves and tau tau of high-ranking aristocrats, best viewed very early in the morning before the sun gets too high.

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KE'TE KUSU: The village of Ke'te Kesu (14 km from Rantepao) has become a living museum. Here a whole tongkonan, or village of traditional houses, and their distinctive rice barns, looks out over a sea of rice fields. At the back of the village are some beautiful tau tau and intricate old coffins.

BATU TUMONGA: One of the most scenic sights in the whole of Toraja is Batu Tumonga, high on the slopes of Mt. Sisean. The village overlooks Rantepao far below, and quite often the whole valley fills with mist. It is especially pleasant to spend the night there in one of the simple but adequate accommodations, and then, in the early morning walk the eight kilometres or so down to Tikale where your transport can pick you up.

FORT ROTTERDAM: Built in 1545 by the rulers of the powerful Gowa kingdom, this impressively solid fort was later taken over by the Dutch and rebuilt in 1667. Within the solid walls is the dungeon where one of Indonesia's national heroes, Prince Diponegoro was imprisoned for 27 years until his death in 1855. To-day the fort serves as a museum and cultural offices.

THE ISLANDS: Offshore, dozens of tropical islands come complete with white sand and the ubiquitous shady palms. Pulau Samalona is the most popular for swimming and snorkelling, while the friendly fishing islands of Lai Lai and Barrang Lompo are great to visit for a day or two and you can even stay overnight. Several of the islands are surrounded by spectacular coral reefs just made for diving and snorkelling.

PAOTERE HARBOUR: Walk along the roads and see sharkfins drying in the sun, and boxes of dried black trepang, salted fish and squid awaiting shipment to the markets of Hong Kong and Taiwan. In the small but busy harbour, Bugis pinisi lie at anchor, their unfurled black sails drying in the sun as they await cargoes of electronics and provisions for far flung ports of the archipelago.