Sulawesi Writeup 6 – Tana Toraja Funeral

That morning we spent visiting the old village of Kete Kesu. This traditional village has two rows of traditional Tongkonan houses and similarly shaped rice storage buildings. Set near a field of rice paddies with a hill in the background, the village was   very picturesque.

Behind the main part of the village there were burial slots in the hill, with effigies (tau tau) in front of them. There were some coffins suspended on tree branches that had been stuck into the side of the hill.

Ferry informed us that he had located a funeral. We bought some tobacco and sugar, traditional funeral gifts, and then proceeded to the area where the funeral was being held.

We got there just as the procession started. We had to run to get ahead of it to take some pictures. I felt like a paparazzi intruding on a private affair, but the people were quite used to this sort of behaviour from tourists. there were another 15 tourists there doing the same thing. The body was carried in a Tongkonan shaped shrine/coffin, which reminded me of the shrine carrying parades in Japan. The coffin was carried into a village green which was now part of a courtyard formed by temporary shelters erected for the funeral. The coffin was carried to a second storey of the one of the buildings and placed there. The relatives of the deceased met a parade of people who came to pay their respects to the deceased This included people singing and playing musical instruments.

Since we had brought gifts for the family and were tourists we were invited to have some special sweets and tea that they had prepared and met with the sister of the deceased. A procession of pigs were carried in on bamboo supports and were offered as a sign of wealth, and not to be sacrificed as we had thought. However, the water buffalo was to be slaughtered right in front of us and was one of about a dozen that would be sacrificed over the three days of the funeral “celebration”. We stayed about 90 minutes and then left having witnessed one of the true cultural ceremonies of the highlands of Sulawesi.

We had lunch in a restaurant in the middle of some rice paddies. A very heavy afternoon shower occurred, which literally cut off visibility beyond  300 m, but seemed to not bother the water buffalo that were grazing in the field. We spent the afternoon checking out the crafts shops at Kete Kesu and some of the stores in Rantepeo.

The next day we headed south to Londa and Lemo, famous for their balconies of tau tau (effigies of the deceased). High in the cliffs, balconies had been carved out and effigies of the deceased that were buried in coffins inserted in the rock were lined up like people at the opera watching a performance. The stone carvings were very realistic and from a distance looked very real. we also went inside  a cave which had remains of coffins as well as a coffin of a body that had recently passed away.  Nearby was the tree of the buried baby, which had the remains of an infant buried in a small coffin and inserted in the tree.

We drove through the main city of Makale and did some more shopping. Very few tourists were in the area, and no one hassled us – it was a very pleasant experience.

The next day we headed south to Makassar stopping at various places to have a break and eat lunch. The lush countryside and clean air of South Sulawesi were imprinted in our mind, and were a pleasant contrast to the other islands in Indonesia that we would be visiting.


About petergsimmons

Global citizenship is conferred on those who have lived in a variety of countries, and who don’t identify with any one culture. I am such a person. Having lived in Jamaica, Canada and Japan, I have been exposed to First World/Third World, East and West, North and South. This has lead to a rich living experience, open-mindedness and curiosity about the world around me. This variety of living conditions in human landscapes is coupled with equally diverse travels in natural landscapes from the jungles of South East Asia and South America to the Arctic tundra; tropical beaches to the Himalayas, resulting in an incredible journey through life itself.
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