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Hiking In Tana Toraja & Traditional Funerals

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 too 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.

FIND PLACES TO STAY IN TANA TORAJA HERE


Hiking In Tana Toraja Sulawesi

tana toraja sulawesi indonesia

Tana Toraja Mountain Hiking Adventure

rice field sulawesi

The countryside high up is surrounded by mountains, often shrouded in misty clouds, and scattered with small villages amongst the beautiful rice terraces.

village tana toraja
rice field sulawesi

Wandering out from your homestay with the local family, you can walk through these rice fields and down through other villages, meeting extremely friendly and hospitable people.

traditionally dressed girl sulawesi
village house tana toraja
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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.

sulawesi children

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.

tana toraja funeral tomb

As said before the scenery is stunning to walk through.

Rice terraces descend through large boulders, and often disappear 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.

buffalo horns indonesia

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, with just the sound of nature. Waking to rice terraces covered in clouds, you could be in a dream world.

sulawesi mountain tana toraja
rice fields sulawesi

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.

hiking tana toraja

It’s easy to get lost if you take 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.

rice field work indonesia

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.

hiking tana toraja

Go ahead and escape the usual crowds in Indonesia, and make a getaway to Tana Toraja.

hiking 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.

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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, but there are also hanging graves, perched out on wooden poles, some often broken with skulls and bones showing.

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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!

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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.

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On top of all that, many of the people buried within have statues made of their likeness cut out of wood.

These stand at the front to the caves and the cliff graves, situated up on the cliff.

Their eyes sometimes seem to be staring right at you. Could send a slight shiver down the spine.

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The statues can also be found within the caves themselves sometimes.

tana toraja cave burials
Hanging coffins inside the cave with statues behind.

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 placed 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.

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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.

tana toraja sulawesi buffalo funeral sacrifice

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.

tana toraja buffalo funeral

It is customary 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.

slaughtered pigs in tana toraja
Slaughtered pigs.

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.

village tana toraja

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.

traditional tana toraja Sulawesi

The meat from the buffalo and pigs is distributed to all people from the villages who come to the funeral for them to cook and eat.

The meat is not wasted.

tana toraja funeral

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 person’s 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.

tana toraja village houses

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.

tana toraja funeral

Visit Tana Toraja

FIND PLACES TO STAY IN TANA TORAJA HERE

Many people when visiting Indonesia tend to stick to the most popular areas such as Bali.

For more on travel in Indonesia have a look at the 10 best books about Bali to read.

But places like Tana Toraja are not so hard to get to and can be a much more rewarding destination to visit and there are so many things to do in Sulawesi when there.

I recommend using SafetyWing Travel Insurance for your trip, just in case, it’s best to be prepared.

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 kinds of destinations like Tana Toraja then the Kelabit Highlands in neighbouring Borneo Island will be perfect for you.

More information about Tana Toraja is here.

If you liked this article about Tana Toraja in Sulawesi a share would be cool 🙂

3 thoughts on “Hiking In Tana Toraja & Traditional Funerals”

  1. Visiting Tana Toraja is an enlightening experience. Their views on death, and how their dead ancestors continue to interact with the living is kind of wonderful.

    On our tour with a very local guide, we not only got to attend a funeral, we got to view the mummies of a couple who were awaiting burial. They died 5 years apart, but the wife’s body remained in the home the entire time, waiting for her husband to join her.

    I know there’s also a time of year where family members visit the graves. They remove and clean the corpses, give them fresh clothes and spend the afternoon chatting and sharing family time with their dead ancestors. We weren’t there at that time when we went, but we may return at a later date if our travel coincides with this time of year.

    This is definitely a worthwhile trip to make, even with the 10-hour bus ride.

  2. Definitely, a great experience. We were invited to a ritual in Bali. It wasn’t a funeral but to inaugurate new home owners. It was a normal gathering with loads of food and arak and all the neighbourhood was there.

    At some point the ritual begun with chanting, playing instruments and dancing. Part of the ritual was to dance with a dagger pressed to chest. This part was so intense for those taking part that mostly ended in a state of trance. I was even asked to take a try but I refused.
    I’m curious, aren’t they Muslim in Tana Toraja? I ask because they sacrifice pigs and it seems they eat them.
    Hopefully I may travel to Sulawesi within the next few months. But is the entire island of Sulawesi safe for tourists or should I be aware of something? I have read mixed reviews about Sulawesi that is why I ask.

  3. Most of the Tana Toraja area is Christian. The main cities like Manado and Makassar are Muslim but I had no problem anywhere on Sulawesi. There is some problems I heard about in the central area but I did not go there. The main destinations that tourists visit like Tana Toraja, Togean Islands, Manado, Makassar, you should be ok.

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