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Published: November 27th 2009
Typical Tana Toraja scene
Hiking high above Rantepau
In the first week of June, 2009, I arrived after a 37 hour journey to Makassar, in southern Sulawesi by a massive, overloaded Pelni ship. Thousands of people piled off, pushing and shoving their way, each one needing to be the first one down the narrow stairway onto the concrete pier below. I couchsurfed with a wonderful and kind guy in town and the night I chose to do so, I was invited to a fancy-shmancy wedding. 2,000 people, all swanky and dressed to the nines, attended the function held in multiple ballrooms of a "five star" hotel. The guests, all people of high class and clout (even the governor of Sulawesi was in attendance) were dressed so fancily and here I was in my backpacker's finest. Ha! Tell me I didn't stand out! Eight buffets were constantly being replenished with mouthwatering delectables, a slideshow of the happy couple playing on continuous in a corner all night, and a receiving line at least three miles long (or so it seemed....). It was a lovely introduction to Sulawesi.
I soon made my way north to Rantepau, in the Tana Toraja region, an area known for their elaborate funerals that tourists are
Coffins on the Cliff Faces
Note the skulls and bones on the bottom right corner
allowed (and encouraged) to witness. The first funeral we heard about was going to take place the day after we arrived. A gal, Helena, whom I had met on the Pelni, and I met a couple other travelers and we split the guide fee and went to see one of these famous funerals everyone always talks about. The funeral itself (this was day one out of three or four for this funeral) was lovely and full of traditions passed through the generations, but I wasn't too thrilled with the massive number of camera-toting and over-snapping tourists who were there. It took much of the excitement and specialness out of the morning's festivities. But what can I say? I too was a camera-toting tourist! The local villagers got together, dressed in fancy funeral clothes, and sacrificed over 100 pigs and approximately 10 water buffalo (of which we saw one slaughter; the others would take place in the following days). Friends of the deceased family bought and brought these animals to the village where the sacrifices took place. Yes, it was gruesome, yes, it was bloody, but it was fascinating, nonetheless. We were invited to partake in the snacks they were serving
Effigies and Cave Graves
How did they get way up there to bury their dead?
to the foreigners but didn't stay for the freshly fire-roasted pig and other food items they served later in the day.
The following day, on a Torajan area hike with Helena, while visiting caves with life-size effigies of the deceased, skulls and bones of the dead, and multiple hanging coffins on the cliff faces, we stumbled upon another funeral. We were invited in and were taken under the wing of a few men who spoke English. This time, thankfully, we were the only "bule" (pronounced "boo-lay," meaning white people/foreigners) in attendance. We witnessed yet another sacrifice of a buffalo. It all happened so fast. The buffalo was paraded in front of the guests, roped to a stake in the ground and before one could blink an eye, the handler whipped out a machete and slit the throat of the unsuspecting beast. It thrashed about, splaying ruby-red blood everywhere and eventually collapsed in a heap. I managed to get the entire show on video. We gorged on fabulous food, drank a bit of palm wine out of a long bamboo "cup" and made some good friends with the locals that day. They, in turn, were pleased to have two bule
Pigs patiently waiting for the knife
to witness the ceremony of their deceased family member.
We left the peaceful, green Tana Toraja area on day four and took a long long long smoke-filled bus journey heading to Tentena on Lake Poso, in the north of Sulawesi. Question: why do some long distance buses have the teeniest windows and located only up near the ceiling of the bus? These do absolutely *nothing* for airflow and when 99% of the men on the bus are smoking continuously for 15 hours, it sure makes for one uncomfortable journey, never mind the twisty winding road.
The day after we arrived and after a much-needed sleep, we were woken up to yet another celebration at the guesthouse. Turns out there was a wedding taking place a few hours later and we once again were invited! There were five of us this time, the only five bule at the wedding. Numerous ceremonies and celebrations took up the entire day, all unplanned and unforeseen by us of course, but we managed to escape for a few hours during the afternoon and hike along the road around part of the beautiful lake, dodging a massive downpour. The rain delayed everyone getting to
One more down.....
the hall for the evening celebrations, but once there, we were fed -- again! -- and watched as a completely different kind of wedding celebration from the afternoon unfolded before our eyes. Since the bride and groom were from two different villages, thus having two different beliefs systems and traditions, they had to celebrate for both sides. Family gifts were exchanged witnessed by the crowd of guests and we bule were invited onto the stage for numerous family photos. Impromptu karaoke was sung by some guests and soon the microphone was thrust towards us, the foreigners, as well, but we all declined the offer to sing.
All in all Sulawesi was a wonderful island with lots of fabulous food, people, experiences. Hope y'all can get there someday.
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