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Published: February 24th 2011
After so much time snorkelling and lazing around on white sand beaches we were ready for a change.
We took a bus heading northwards to an area in the South of Sulawesi called Tana Toraja. The area is high in the mountains with even higher mountains surrounding it. The temperature was a pleasant 26/28 degrees C - much cooler than the 40 degrees in Makassar. The nights are cool enough to sleep without a fan or air-con.
This area is known for it's strange customs and funeral ceremonies. We booked ourselves into a pleasant little guest house with mountain views, then joined up with four other travellers and hired a car plus driver/ guide for two days to see the area and learn about their strange customs.
On the first day we visited a traditional village, there are many in the area and this really is how the Torajan people live, it's not a show put on for the tourists. The houses are on stilts and have a strange roof, inside are three rooms, one along side the other. The south facing room is for sleeping, the middle room is for general living and entertaining guests while the
north facing room is where they keep their dead. Sometimes bodies ate kept for years while the family save for the funeral ceremony, during this time the Torajan people believe that their relative is 'resting' so offer food and drink on a daily basis to the body. The body is injected with Formaldehyde to preserve it.
The houses all have very intricate patterns on them. The buffalo horns fastened onto the front post of the house represent the wealth of the family, this didn't make a lot of sense to me at the time but the guide told us we would find out the next day.
Normally funerals are carried out during the month of August but occasionally at other times, usually if the family is quite wealthy so doesn't need to save up.
Cooking is usually done outside or in an outbuilding for safety. Occasionally the Torajan people live in ordinary type houses but have a small Torajan style house in their garden for the dead. Sometimes they stored rice in these small houses too. (Hopefully not at the same time!)
The many villages are connected with a very poor road system so the going was
rough and slow. However this gave us more time to absorb the beautiful scenery, high mountains and rice paddy field cascading down into the valley. We watched people working in the fields, picking coffee beans and carving wood. The houses all have very intricate patterns on them.
We visited a strange circle of Neolithic stones but I never got to find out what the purpose of these stones was.
One of the most bizarre customs we saw was the 'Baby in the tree grave'. I expected to see a small coffin perched on the branches of a tree but this was entirely different. If a baby dies before it has cut any teeth it is taken after dark to a particular tree. A vertical hole is hollowed out in the trunk of the tree and the baby is put in, in a standing position. A patch made from Bamboo bark is then fastened over the slit. Over the years the tree 'heals' so all that can be seen is the split. We could see several scars on the trunk where it had healed with the baby inside and several patches.
If a baby already has teeth when
it dies it is considered to be unpure and a funeral ceremony is held for them in normal Torajan style.
We were informed that, despite it being February, there was a funeral to be carried out while we were in the area, They usually last for three or four days, our guide was keen for us to go on the second day which is tomorrow, I'm not really sure what to expect!
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