After our first stop from the 5th of november to the 16th in Bali, Lombok, Gili Island et Nusa Lembongan, we are heading now to Sulawesi Island (which used to be named “Celebes” before).
We are still in Indonesia, but this time the plane brought us to between the east of Borneo Island and the north of Bali (check the map on http://www.jacquesandcaro.com )
We land in Makassar where we don’t stay and grab a bus straight to Rantepao located in the middle of Sulawesi.
After 10 hours of bus, we finally arrived in the Tana Toraja country. Looking at the bus parked at the station, we were not sure if we would get into one piece at our destination… Finally, we got a very nice and comfy one.
Rantepao has nothing really outstanding except the fact this is the “capital” of the Tana Toraja country.
The people living in this “country” have a very special tradition which makes it popular to tourists looking for cultural attractions: its traditional funeral ceremonies.
These ceremonies only last a few days, however they represent a lifetime sacrifice for these people.
I explain myself:
In Tana Toraja, people work very hard. As hard as we work in our western countries to spend our money in house, car and other pointless things.
Unlike us, all the money they have earned during their life is meticulously saved at the bank, under the mattress or under other forms such as buffalo or pig. This money will be used to pay for their funeral and to organize the ceremonies. In fact they start to pay back as soon as they start to work the loan they will use for their burial. Again, unlike us who start to spend the money we don’t even have in our bank account.
These funeral ceremonies are one of the main pillar of their culture and society. This tradition is carried on from generation to generation. It is about their familly honour and the death reputation. Therefore, the greatness of the ceremonies shows the social class the dead and his family belong to:
- The poor or slave caste
- Middle classes
- Political or royal class
The higher you are on this social ladder, the greatness your burial must be.
Please note that most of locals are not as tall as us and pretty skinny. Everything which is big, fat, large is associated with prosperity and wealth.
Let’s go back to our deaths…
When you die, your familly must organize a ceremony which last usually between 2 to 3 days.
The only problem, is that, most of the time, there is not enough money to organize it, so usually they wait one more year before doing it.
But during this time, the death is not burried. It is kept at home, in his coffin, open. Usually the family put it in the best room of the house until enough money is gathered to organize the ceremony. Sometimes, the family needs to keep the body for up to 7 years. The body is preserved with formalin injection.
In the Tana Toraja tradition, the death will not go to afterlife until we sacrify buffalos and pigs.
Then, we will burry him inside a large cliff to help him to go in the beyond. The vault is dig within the rocks and will be used for the whole family. Outside, we will install a small wood statue representing the deceased, called the Tau tau.
How does that work?
When he dies, the death is kept in the house until enough money is gathered.
When they have enough, they start to build some temporary houses to accommodate all the guests (sometimes up to 500 people). They build as well the famous Tana Toraja house for the family members. This house is always south/north orientated.
These houses are really typical and special with their roofs looking like the buffalos horns.
They will have to build a few of them depending on how many guests are coming.
These house are wood made and are decorated with rooster drawings and painted with 4 different colours:
– Black, meaning death
– Red, meaning bravery
– Yellow, for blessing
– White, for purity
The temporary houses are built to accomodate the guest during the sacrifices and protected them from the sun and rain when taking coffee and eating during the ceremony.
Some of the money is used to buy buffalos which will be sacrificed on the D day. A buffalo is worth between 25 to 100 Million of Rupee.
100 Millions Rupee represent around 1200 AUD and usually between 5 to 10 buffalos are sacrified, which is a lot of money. To estimate the cost of life in this place of the world, you can eat for less than 3 dollars.
Today is D day. We will go to two different ceremonies so we can see the two main stages: The reception and the sacrifice.
What is happening during the reception?
The reception is the start of the ceremony when all the guest arrived along with their gifts to the family.
The guests arrived during the whole day along with their gifts before they pay tribute to the deceased person.
We came with a carton of cigarettes, but the ceremony we saw was massive. The man dead last year was coming from a very respectable family.We arrived around 11am in the middle of a fair, with already aroudn 250 to 300 people along with 100 pigs which will be killed and grilled on the ground. Each of them are tagged with the name of the owner who brought them. Why? Because if I come to this family with a pig to offer, they will have to do the same at my ceremony. All the transaction (how many pigs did I bring today versus how many pigs did you bring when you came to my grand father ceremony) is written in a register so no one forget or cheat about it. As well, the army is here to make sure the taxes they collect on these gifts are paid to the Indonesian governement.
This day, we sacrify the pigs, drink coffee and eat cakes with the dead, his guest and family. It is a real party as we need to celebrate the best we can to remenber the dead. All of this, with in background the noise made by the pigs being sacrificed, people chatting, and a loud speaker where someone yells the name of people just arriving with more pigs.
You would think you are at the last farmer trade show where everyone shows their animals. We leave the reception to get back on our scooter and find the other ceremony which is at a more advanced stage ” The Sacrifice”
We arrived at the other ceremony ” the Sacrifice” which is the next step of the “reception”. This is the bloodiest day of the funeral ceremony. This ceremony is a smaller than the one we were. Only 10 buffalos will be sacrificed.
One by one the buffalos are brought to the centre of the scene. One of their legs attached by a rope so they cannot escape. The persecutor lifts his head, brings his long knife and cuts the throat. It happened in a few seconds and no one in the public moved. The buffalo is losing all his blood and little by little falls on the ground. Sometimes they can stand for a few minutes before falling down. Some of them keep walking around trying to escape. But they are already bringing the next one.. And so on.. two, three, four, five, ten… ouf… It is done. 40 min of carnage. But everyone applauses especially because one of the buffalo is still fighting for his life on the middle of the bloodshed. A shocking scene, although some young kids around their parents are watching it.
This is it, we are sure now the dead will go in the afterlife. Although we were surprised that the most devoted spectators were the spanish people. It is hard to believe that the corridas are not bloody enough. Although it looks like they really like it.. One of them was very proud to say around him he managed to record the killing of the ten buffalos..
Finally, I was more shocked by their attitude rather by what I have just watched.
Close to me, Caroline was pale and decided to take picture with the dead’s family dressed with the traditional costume rather than watching the scene.
We didn’t stay for the cutting up of the buffalos for the families to share the meat and cook it. We need to see something with less blood so we can change our mind…
We are leaving and go back exploring Tana Toraja country. The lookouts are beautiful, such as the one where we stay for lunch. We had noodles without meat…. (no pork, no beef or buffalos…)