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Tanah Torajah - Buffalo Market - Bori - Ma'Nene - Lo'Ko Mata


View South East Asia Grand Tour 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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We have one more day here in Rantepao, at the Toraja Heritage Hotel, to explore more of the surroundings.

But first, breakfast.

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Chicken noodles and omelette

Catholic Mass

One of the great things about having a car, driver, and guide when we travel, is that if we see something interesting, not only will the guide know what it is (or be able to find out), but it also means we can stop and investigate.

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This particular mass is held by the Bishop, and is attracting thousands of people, creating all sorts of chaos including road closures. We can get nowhere near the church, but it doesn’t matter, because it all spills over into the pavement, waste ground, and road, with temporary structures erected to accommodate all the attendees.

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Youngsters, some in their traditional outfits, others in matching shirts.

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A lady in her Sunday finery (on a Saturday)

We don’t stay long, as we have a lot to see today.

Bolu Buffalo Market

The market officially operates every Tuesday and Saturday, and the starting date of our whole trip was planned to ensure our visit to Toraja coincided with a market day.

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The buffalo in the market come from various parts of Indonesia and not just Toraja. They are bought as calves and are reared and later resold at the market at a much higher price. Nadja (our guide) explains that the price varies from 60 to 100 million Rupiah (between £3,000 and £5,000) – no wonder families have to save up for years to be able to afford a funeral, when you think that they sacrificed eight buffalo yesterday.

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When a buffalo is sold, the profit is shared between the broker, owner, and workers in the buffalo trade, with the broker receiving 50% of the sale, and the others sharing the rest.

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Customers come from far and wide to purchase the much-prized buffalo here in Toraja, not just Sulawesi, but also from other islands, and sometimes even from abroad.

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Pig Market

Not far away from the buffalo market is the pig stables.

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Pigs, which are also used for death rituals (as we saw yesterday), are valued according to the diameter of their bodies, and are nowhere near as expensive as the buffalo.

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A purchase has just been made, and cash has changed hands

The pigs are held in raised pens with floors made from bamboo, which helps to drain their waste materials, keeping the pens reasonably clean. It also means that the pigs struggle to stand on their trotters, preferring to lie down and await their fate.

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The pigs are fed ground husks of rice.

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Bori Kalimbuang Menhirs (Standing Stones)

The sacred site of Bori is a combination of ceremonial grounds and a burial place, and is of enormous cultural significance for the people in Toraja.

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More than 100 menhirs stand on the ceremonial ground, each a different height and diameter. Despite the difference in size, they are all considered to be of the same value, and during elaborate ceremonies to honour their ancestors, 24 buffalo have to be sacrificed for any one of the standing stones. The animals are slaughtered and cut up amongst the stones, with the meat then taken up into the tower where names of the family are called out for the meat to be distributed.

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Each menhir represents a feast of merit performed in the past by a person of nobility whose body is buried in a nearby rock grave. The stones are said to be around 500 years old, and are inscribed as a UNESCO Heritage Site. The practice of erecting menhirs is still very much alive today.

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The standing stones at Bori are often referred to as megaliths, which can be confusing, as it makes you think they are very much older than they are. Megaliths do not necessarily originate from the Megalithic period, it simply means ‘tall stones’.

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We see a couple of youngsters taking pictures, running around between the stones, creating provocative poses, something I find quite offensive and disrespectful.

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Nearby is the burial site (there are no human remains at the ceremonial area where the standing stones are), with rock-hewn tombs and miniature tongkonan (traditional Torajan houses). The construction of these smaller buildings is believed to accompany the soul of the deceased to the afterlife and to provide them with a comfortable dwelling place in the spiritual realm.

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We leave the Bori ceremonial site behind and travel further up into the mountains, on tracks that consist of a series of potholes with small areas of road between them. Many huge boulders are scattered here and there on the hillside, with several featuring graves cut out of the rock.

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In one place we see a huge rock with an unfinished carving of a buffalo.

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We also spot a buffalo enjoying a mud bath.

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Ma’Nene Ritual

This ritual involves exhuming the dead from their graves, washing and grooming the corpse, and even putting on fresh clothes. While this may seem odd to most Westerners, to the Torajan people it is a great sign of respect, making sure the deceased is still relevant to society. In addition, according to local belief, performing the rite will result in a better harvest in the following year. The grave itself is also cleaned, and the tau tau (life-sized effigies) are repainted and redressed too. This ritual takes place annually or biannually, and offers great comfort to grieving relatives.

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Sometimes the corpse is paraded around their old village, with family members taking photographs with the deceased relative. Treating the body as a living, breathing person helps family members recall memories of their loved one. It is also considered a way of introducing younger family members to their dead ancestors. While this practice may seem strange or disturbing to many of us, the Torajans have no fear of the dead, and their love for the person outweighs any concerns or feelings of discomfort about seeing death and decomposition.

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Family members preparing for the ceremony under a blue tarpaulin.

Lunch at Batutumonga

The restaurant, which is built on stilts on a hillside, offers great views over the beautiful countryside.

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Today we are given a menu to choose from. David orders a simple nasi goreng (fried rice), whereas I opt for the nasi goreng special.

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The ‘special’ part of the dish consists of an inedible-looking emaciated chicken head, with no apparent sustenance attached to it.

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The fried rice is extremely bland (I have to confess that I cannot stomach the idea of even attempting to tackle eating the chicken head), but becomes a little less dull with the addition of chilli sauce and kecap manis (sweet soy sauce).

We also each order banana pancakes for dessert – which turns out to be a savoury starter, complete with sweet and salty flavours.

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Lo’Ko Mata

While in essence this rock burial site is no different from the one we saw in Lemo yesterday, its situation right next to the main road, and the sheer size of it, makes it a popular place to visit for tourists.

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Each burial chamber belongs to a single family and generations of deceased family members are placed in these vaults. As with other cliff graves, it is believed that the higher the burial chamber, the higher the social status of the deceased and their family. On the balcony of some of the graves, you can find a tau tau – a life-sized and life-like effigy of the person buried inside.

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The ladder indicates that the ritual of cleaning the tomb is taking place within the very top grave.

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As part of that process, family members will often destroy the duba-duba (small replicas of the Torajan traditional houses known as tongkonan) that were used to carry the dead person’s coffin to the burial site.

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Duba duba

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The duba duba are discarded into the ditch

Buffalo have great symbolic importance in life, and more importantly, death, for the Torajans, as they are considered to be the vehicle the deceased will use to transport them to Puya, the afterlife.

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We leave the cliff tombs behind and start making our way back

Alongside the road buffalo skin hangs up to dry. It will later be cut up into small pieces and sold as snacks. Having eaten crispy buffalo skin in Laos many years ago, I can confirm that it can be quite enjoyable.

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By the time we return to the hotel, the scrawny chicken extorts its revenge by way of explosive diarrhea (if that is what happens when I don’t eat the chicken, I would dread to think what it would be like if I had). Feeling very unwell, I crawl into bed for a couple of hours, and by the time I get up and have a shower, I feel almost normal again.

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The delightful outdoor shower at Toraja Heritage Hotel

Dinner in the hotel restaurant

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We both opt for the chicken satay this evening, which is absolutely delicious, with just the right amount of kick, and it’s a delight not to have to try and fight with bones to get to the meat (as well as not having my meal looking back at me)

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Thank you for another great day, and to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this fascinating visit to Toraja, part of our Grand South East Asia Tour.

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Posted by Grete Howard 10:45 Archived in Indonesia Tagged indonesia market standing_stones unesco burial buffalo bishop sulawesi ice_cream funeral pigs corpse pig_market toraja bolu menhir undiscovered_destinations megaliths mud_bath stone_carving nasi_goreng tongkonan rantepao tau_tau catholic_mass bolu_buffalo_market buffalo_market bori_standing_stones bori ceremonial_ground buffalo_mud_bath manene_ritual ma'nene buffalo_skin land_of_death batutumonga chciken_head lokomata loko_mata lo'ko_mata burial_site duba_duba

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Comments

What an interesting day and no ... I wouldn't have eaten the chicken head as well .... OMGosh, give me just a normal goreng please!!!!

by Ils1976

Exactly!

by Grete Howard

Another fascinating day! Interestingly we learned in Madagascar that the people of the central area, who have their ancestral roots in Polynesia, have a similar custom of removing their family dead from their tombs, but they do so every seven years, not annually. The bodies are wrapped in clean cloths and paraded around the tomb with dancing and music, to celebrate their life and connect them with the still-living family.

by ToonSarah

I'd heard about that too in Madagascar, although unfortunately, we didn't experience it. I remember one of my VT friends did, however, and posted abut it. It looked fascinating.

by Grete Howard

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