Tana Toraja and Sulawesi (TSFT)
The long drive from the lowlands to the mountain stronghold of Tana Toraja opens up a breath-taking new world. The rugged mountains and verdant valleys are home to a people whose love of religious spectacle is equaled only by their hospitality. With majestic panoramas, captivating villages and dramatic ceremonies, Tana Toraja is the undisputed highlight of any journey to Sulawesi.
Upgraded roads, an airport and several star-rated hotels have opened the Toraja highland to visitors of all interests. The essence of the Toraja beliefs and way of life can be experienced without undue effort, as many interesting sites are clustered around the town of Rantepao, easily accessible by road.
Toraja Land whose ancestor oriented group believes that their forefathers descended from heaven onto a mountain some twenty generations ago. Their colourful culture is especially rich in elaborate sacrificial, post mortuary, and cave burial sites.
Tana Toraja (Toraja Land), which lies in the north of the province is known for its unique culture and ancient traditions. The center of tourism is Rantepao, 328 km from Ujung Pandang by road. There are several small bungalow hotels at Rantepao, and Makale, the district capital. The entry to Tana Toraja is marked by a gate built in traditional boat-shaped architecture. The road passes through the mountains of Kandora and Gandang on which, according to Toraja mythology, the first ancestors of celestial beings descended from heaven. The majority of the people still follows an ancestral cult called “Aluk Todolo” which governs all traditional ceremonies. From Rantepao, side trips can be made to Kete, a traditional village where there are handicraft and unique shops. Behind the village there is a grave site on a hillside. Life-size statues guard over old coffins. As roads are not always paved, it is necessary to use a jeep or walk if the weather is good (between May and October).
Two cliff graves easy to reach are Lemo and Londa. Londa is one of the oldest hanging graves belonging to the nobility. A large balcony is filled with effigies of the dead. Kerosene lamps with young village guides, can be hired to enter the caves to see skeletons and old coffins. At Lemo, burial chambers are cut out of the rock and several balconies filled with effigies look out while new caves are being dug to serve as family graves.
There are several grave sites and traditional villages of which Palawa is a classic example of a village on a small hill with “Tongkonan” or a burial place with celebrations and festivals. Visitors are welcome but they are expected to adhere to local customs of dress, seating and bringing a token present.
From all of the Toraja ceremonies, the most important are those concerned with sending a dead PEOPLE to the afterworld. Without proper funeral rites, the spirit of the deceased will cause misfortune to its family. Funeral sacrifices and feasts are meant to impress the gods with the importance of the deceased so that the spirit can intercede effectively on behalf of living relatives. Funerals can be spread out over several days and involve hundreds of guests and the sacrifice of scores of buffalo. Feasting, dancing and singing may be supplemented by cock-fighting, sisemba (kick-fighting) and even buffalo fights in which the bulls, quite rightly agitated by the insertion of chilli up their behind, lock horns and strain against each other.
If you are invited to a ceremony, be sure to dress respectfully, bring gifts to hand around and don’t sit in areas designated for guests or family members. Taking photographs is acceptable, but do it with restraint. The best time to visit Rantepao is between March and May, though most funeral ceremonies are held in the `party season’ lasting from July to September. July and August is the high season and hotel prices skyrocket.
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