A small mountainous region of indonesian Sulawesi island, Tana Toraja is home to only half a million people, a small fraction of Indonesia’s 250 million population. But the fame of this place goes far beyond the country because of the unique local view on what is considered sombre event elsewhere - death.
Nothing is marked with more extravaganza and joy then a funeral in Tana Toraja. Locals do not lavishly celebrate New Year and Christmas and do not spend much on weddings and birthdays. But funeral - a farewell to another world, is considered the most important event in a person’s life.
During one of I love Asia’s trips to Tana Toraja, our group visited not one, but two funerals in different villages. Both deceased were female, one died at an advanced age on 110, another one was just 54. Both died a year before the funeral. And this is no mistake. In Tana Toraja a deceased is considered sick for a year after death, and the body is kept at home. Family also needs this time to save enough money for the lavish send off which lasts 7 days.
Prior to the ceremony, bamboo houses are built with a large square in the middle. After hundreds of guests gather in their colorful traditional costumes, the ceremony begins with mass slaughter of pigs. But the famous part is up next, when the buffaloe’s legs are tied and then their throats are slit, colouring the square and viewers who dare to come too close, with blood.
Sometimes bulls are able to break free in their last convulsion, sending laughing viewers running. When animals are finished off, men skin them, preparing meat for cooking, as kids jump in puddles of blood.
In short, after a funeral in Toraja, Spanish bullfights will not seem so cruel. But locals claim the tradition has nothing to do with cruelty. According to local beliefs, pigs and buffaloes are regarded as as a link between our world and afterlife.
In another village we witnessed a second day of the funeral, when the main slaughter was over and celebrations were in progress. A person in charge, kind of an event manager, was spreading joy among hundreds of guests, by telling jokes and anecdotes. The mood was festive, with people dancing and singing national songs. Why being sad if the deceased is departing to another, better, world?
Soon we were approached by one of the merry women: “Hi, I am a daughter of the deceased. Where are you from?” She invited us to join in, leading the group to the tables, filled with food and drinks. Meanwhile, some men were skinning buffaloes and tying pigs to bamboo poles near by preparing for another set of meals.
And now get ready to be really surprised. Everything that you have just read is done by Christians. All people in Toraja are either Catholic or Protestant, despite the fact that 87% of Indonesians are muslim. However, Christianity arrived here barely a 100 years ago, entwining with ancient traditions and beliefs.
This kind of contrasts, merge of ancient and modern, is what makes Indonesia a dream destination for explorers. Not to mention that the country also boasts breathtaking nature, unique architecture and probably the richest underwater life in the world. Like elsewhere, many treasures vanish under a spread of modernity. So hurry up if you are interested in exploring the real Indonesia.
Bogdan Logvynenko is a tour leader with I love Asia, specializing in Indonesia, Malaysia and Jordan. Tana Toraja is part if his "New Year on uninhabited island+Indonesia and Singapore" trip which can be found here