Sights & Stories > Indonesia > South Sulawesi: Toraja & Makassar


Welcome to South Sulawesi! 11-14 July 2002

2.5 hours flight from Timika, and that's the start of an even longer journey across South Sulawesi province, from the south end -  Makassar city, through to the heart of Toraja Land up north. We had pre-arranged everything, a car with driver cum guide for 3 days, a bed and breakfast in Rantepao for 2 nights, and lastly the best hotel with sea view in Makassar to top it all up. Another story to tell...

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The 7 hours drive to Toraja could be pretty tiring, so we stopped a few times along the way to stretch our legs and enjoy the beautiful scenery, such as this one near Enrekang. Does the shape of the mountain remind you of something? Come on, no need to be embarrassed... :p

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Once we arrived in Toraja around dusk, we visited a funeral party for a lady that passed away 6 months ago, which was normal for the Torajan. From what we saw and heard, this particular party must have been hosted by a rich family. Around 20 temporary houses had been built around the field, some 2 or 3 floors high. We were told that this place was built in 1 month time and 170 buffalos and pigs were slaughtered to mark the occasion. We were lucky to have the opportunity to witness it as the week-long party had neared its end. The other ceremonies had been completed, only the buffalo slaughtering and the burial itself remained to be conducted.

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Early in the morning the next day, we started our excursion by visiting a traditional village with rows of Tongkonans. Tongkonans are traditional Torajan houses elevated from the ground supported by several wooden pillars. The walls are made from beautifully carved woods while the roof is formed into buffalo horn-like structure and is made from bamboo poles structured horizontally one on top of another (the modern version uses metal roof for practicality). The Tongkonan of an important person is marked by many buffalo horns attached to the front-most pillar of the house. The building in the picture is a barn to store rice and other land produce.

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Afterwards, we returned to the party site and waited for the buffalo slaughtering to start. They counted and distributed most of the 30 buffalos available and we had to wait almost 2 hours before finally 9 buffalos were slaughtered just within a few minutes time, each by a different man. It was quite a sight, and not a pretty sight for the weak of hearts. It was done by cutting the throat of the buffalos and letting them bleed to death. Buffalos are highly priced by Torajan people. A normal gray buffalo can fetch Rp 3 million when the horns just start to grow. We were told that an adult ‘bonga’ (flowered buffalo) like this one can reach Rp 60 million in value.

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It took quite a while for all the buffalos to breath its final breath. A couple were so die-hard that our guide suspected super-natural foul play had been conducted by people who did not like the host. Magic is still alive and kicking in this area where animism used to rule and it can be used among others to force a dying buffalo to keep kicking its legs even though it is already covered in its own blood. After finally no more buffalo moved, we watched the men skillfully skinned them. Despite the big difference in monetary value when alive, once slaughtered and skinned, the meat of a ‘bonga’ will not be treated differently from the meat of other buffalos.

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After leaving the party site, we headed towards Lemo, a popular site for cliff tombs. A very narrow and steep track could be seen going up the cliff, but I declined our guide’s kind offer to help me climb. We were satisfied just to see everything from the ground: rows of wooden statues, each representing a deceased person, and the doors to the tombs themselves, each for a family. Every time a family member passes away, the door is opened to allow the body to join the others.

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Our last destination for the day was Londa, a natural cave that is also used as tombs by the local villagers. Guided by a local youngster with a lantern in his hand, we entered the dark cave and took pictures with the relatively new coffins and skulls/ bones scattered out of the decaying old coffins.

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On Day 3, we had to say goodbye to this agriculturally and culturally rich valley. For remembrance, we took a picture in front of the bed and breakfast where we had been staying. Like other local people, our hosts still had Tongkonan-shaped barn despite the fact that they already lived in a modern house in the middle of a city.

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Out of Toraja, we entered the Bugis people territory. Along the way back to Makassar, we found this cute Bugis-style house in the middle of nowhere and could not resist the temptation to take a picture.

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Late in the afternoon, we reached Makassar and took the opportunity to visit Fort Rotterdam, an old sea-facing Dutch fort that is now used as a museum and some government-related offices. It was quite a nice place to hang around but unfortunately, all the cannons had been dismantled and the museum had closed at that hour, so we had to miss the best parts of the showcase.

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As if to end our journey magnificently, we were blessed with a magnificent sunset that evening. Staying in a hotel along Losari Beach, the most happening beach in Makassar, certainly had its advantages! The next morning we left the island with contented hearts. Goodbye South Sulawesi, we might not visit you again in the near future, but we certainly will not forget you that easily either!