Tana Toraja in Sulawesi is just one of those stunning places to visit.
It has all of the right ingredients: friendly people, tribal traditions, history, and absolutely gorgeous scenery in the mountains.
One of the best ways to see it all is to go hiking in the mountains, where you may stumble upon some of the Tana Toraja dead.
If you can arrange it, which shouldn’t be to hard to do, then staying with a local family in a traditional house up in a remote mountain village is great to get a local experience.
What To Do In Tana Toraja Sulawesi
Tana Toraja Mountain Hiking Adventure
The countryside high up is surrounded by mountains, often shrouded in misty clouds, and scattered with small villages amongst the beautiful rice terraces.
Wandering out from your homestay with the local family, you can walk through these rice fields and down through other villages, meeting the extremely friendly and hospitable people.
However don’t expect total peace as you will be swamped by the local children!
This is not a bad thing though as the children are friendly and playful, and are very happy to show you around.
If you get remote enough into the mountains and walk off the main road, then the people in the villages will not be used to lots of foreigners visiting.
If you are lucky enough there may be a funeral ceremony going on somewhere in the area.
This may sound morbid, but it is a very cultural thing to witness, and you can expect to feel very welcomed when visiting such an event.
All the people from nearby villages show up for the funeral ceremonies.
Parts of the funeral ceremonies will not appeal to some people but you could always skip those parts.
Hitching a ride between different areas in the mountains is a good idea. The distances can be big enough, and to save time some form of transport to drive you for an hour or so is welcome.
As said before the scenery is stunning to walk through.
Rice terraces descending through large boulders, and often disappearing into the clouds with mountains in the background.
You will also pass the occasional cliff carved burial sites and stone monoliths, and plenty of small villages with their traditional houses.
Many of these old houses have buffalo horns displayed at the front.
Sleeping up in the cool mountain air with the stars shining bright above, is what you want to get away from it all.
Total peace and quiet, with just the sound of nature. Waking to rice terraces covered in cloud, you could be in a dreamworld.
Continuing to walk from village to village, passing all the time the friendly people, you can see the locals at work in the fields, while the children play happily nearby on the way to school.
It’s easy to get lost if taking the wrong turn, but that’s not such a bad thing, and the locals will soon point you in the right direction again.
You could spend as much time as you want in the mountains of Tana Toraja.There are plenty of walks to do, and it would never get boring, given the people, history, and amazing scenery.
Once you do reach the more modern towns, you can treat yourself to some local food. One of the best is chicken or pork (pork being the best) steamed inside bamboo with various vegetables.
It is delicious!
Tana Toraja is certainly not off the beaten path, it gets its fair share of visitors. But get high into the mountains and stay with local families and you can escape it all.
Go ahead and escape the usual crowds in Indonesia, and make a getaway to Tana Toraja.
Tana Toraja Funeral Ceremonies
If you ever wanted to feel a little like Indiana Jones, then the burial sites of Tana Toraja in Sulawesi are one of the places to do it.
The whole area in Tana Toraja is covered with graves carved into the side of cliffs and boulders.
Not only are there graves inside the rock, there are also hanging graves, perched out on wooden poles, some often broken with skulls and bones showing.
But the most amazing and somewhat freaky is the open caves, each filled with skulls, bones, and coffins.
Entering inside can feel somewhat creepy, but those die hard Indiana Jones fans would get a great kick out of it!
Some of the caves are not so deep and the sunlight gets in, but some go deeper into the cliff, and without a torch would be pitch black.
The thought of scrambling around in the dark with coffins overhead, and skulls and bones everywhere could freak you out a bit! Add to that all the big spiders and cobwebs inside.
On top of all that, many of the people buried within have statues made of there likeness cut out of wood.
These stand at the front to the caves and the cliff graves, situated up on the cliff.
There eyes sometimes seem to be staring right at you. Could send a slight shiver down the spine.
The statues can also be found within the caves themselves sometimes.
Another interesting way the people of Tana Toraja had in burials, is the way they buried some of the babies in the past.
The dead babies were places inside a hole in a specific tree and covered with a small door.
As the tree grew, the brittle baby bones would crush up into the tree and form a part of it, thus the baby became a part of a new life.
The people in Tana Toraja have a fascinating culture and traditions.
A video of men singing funeral songs the night before a funeral:
The Buffalo Sacrifice Tana Toraja
Warning: The images ahead contain scenes that may be disturbing for some.
If you are not ok with animal sacrifices then pass over the next three photos.
You have been warned.
The funeral rites are some of the most spectacular, but also gruesome you could ever imagine to see. Some of the images here may be unsettling to see.
When someone dies in Tana Toraja, the person is wrapped in cloth and kept inside a coffin in the house, until the family can afford a funeral.
This can take a long time, even over a year to happen.
Funerals are expensive affairs, and the higher the status of the person who died, the more expensive and elaborate the funeral.
It is custom on the day of the funeral, a day called the death feast, to slaughter buffalo and pigs.
The amount of the slaughter will again depend on the person who died.
A person of high status can have upwards of 100 buffalo slaughtered and countless pigs, whereas someone of low status would have only a few buffalo and pigs killed.
The buffalo will be brought onto a ceremonial field, normally grassy and surrounded by structures for people to sit. Here they will be slaughtered one at a time. It can be very disturbing to watch for some people.
They will be cut with a machete to the throat (the picture at the start of the post) and left to bleed out.
There is a reason the buffalo are slaughtered.
The severed heads and corpses will be lined up on a field, where it is believed the deceased will use them on their journey to puya, or ‘land of the souls’.
The more buffalo killed, the quicker the journey.
The meat from the buffalo and pigs are distributed to all people from the villages who came to the funeral.
The meat is not wasted.
Women in traditional dress will sing and dance on the day of the funeral, and the night before men from the nearby villages will come together and form a circle and sing songs about the dead persons life.
Watching the men sing and chant is mesmerising and beautiful. They can be up late into the night doing this.
If you ever visit Tana Toraja, which you should if given the chance because it is an amazing place for many other reasons than the funeral ceremonies (more of that in future posts), you could always miss the part of the slaughter, and still get a good experience of what it is like to see a funeral.
Tradition is strong and hard to break.
Maybe there can be a way to keep the traditional slaughter, but in a more humane way of killing the animals so they die faster.
Visit Tana Toraja
Many people when visiting Indonesia tend to stick to the most popular areas such as Bali.
But places like Tana Toraja are not so hard to get to, and can be a much more rewarding destination to visit.
Take a cheap domestic flight from Bali or Java to Makassar on Sulawesi, then an eight hour bus ride, and you will be in one of the most interesting places you may ever see.
Check out my post on what to pack for travel to Indonesia.
If you like these kind of destinations like Tana Toraja then the Kelabit Highlands in neighbouring Borneo Island will be perfect for you.
More information about Tana Toraja here.
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