The Bizarre world of the Tana Toraja

Trip Start May 20, 2010
Trip End Sep 05, 2011

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Pia's Poppies

Flag of Indonesia  , South Sulawesi,
Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Day : 122
Temperature : 30 degrees
Weather : Sunny, cloudy, rainy

Our flight to Sulawesi was thankfully uneventful, despite our plane looking like a relic. We passed over Mount Agung in northern Bali and were given incredible views down into the crater of the volcano. We landed at Makassar mid morning, but unfortunately the buses for the Tana Toraja were not leaving until night time, and so we spent the day at the airport eating KFC! After all that healthy eating in Bali my stomach did not know what hit it!

Our bus to Rantepao in the Tana Toraja was very comfortable and we ought to have had a reasonably comfortable night on the bus…unfortunately we had not allowed for our crazy bus driver who obviously thought he was on the race track. We swerved at speed around bends and avoiding pot holes. When we couldn't avoid the pot holes we ran straight through them suffering whiplash in the process and often being bounced right out of our seats. Then at midnight the lights on the bus were switched on…in order for our bus driver could have a chat to another bus driver! At 2am the Indonesian pop music was switched on. Our driver was obviously oblivious that his passengers were trying to sleep! At 4am some locals were dropped off. At 6.30am we arrived in Rantepao. After checking into our guest house we collapsed into bed and woke up 4 hours later feeling a little more refreshed but still not firing on all cylinders. 

The Tana Toraja area of Sulawesi we have found to be one of the most bizarre regions on our trip so far. The strange architecture of their traditional houses and the even stranger funeral celebrations are like no where we have seen before. Strangely enough, life for the Toraja people revolves around death.  The Torajans have two funerals. A small affair immediately after the death of a relative, and then much later a huge, elaborate gathering when the dead person is eventually buried. It may take a family a year or more to save up for the second funeral, and whilst doing so, the dead person remains in the family home during this time. Family members and friends from far away all gather for the second funeral. Many guests bringing with them pigs and buffalo for sacrifice. The more wealthy the family, the more animals are killed. Sometimes as many as 30 buffalo at a time will be killed. This involves tying one leg of the unfortunate animal to a post, then slicing it’s throat. The thrashing animal is then left to bleed to death. It’s a very bloody, brutal and noisy affair….but one that Kevin and I could not bring ourselves to witness. There are however, many guides that will happily take you to visit a funeral where you can experience the whole process if you wish to.

Instead we spent our days on the motorbike which we had hired, riding through some beautiful countryside. We visited some of the many caves which have tombs in them. Many of the higher class Torajans are "buried" in coffins, which are then placed inside caves or left to hang in the steep cliffs which are all over the countryside. The graves are then guarded by “tau-tau”  which are wooden effigies of the dead person…curiously eery! We also found some interesting signage in the Toraja….see the photos…a Coca Cola sign with “baby graves” and an arrow pointing the way! Hmmm. We did accidently stumble upon a funeral, and we were just about to take a peek when we discovered several pigs all bound to bamboo poles and left lying at the side of the road awaiting their fate. At the same time we heard some frantic squealing coming from an area that we couldn’t see, and we hastily made an exit.

We spent three days and two nights in the Toraja which was plenty of time. Our next destination was the far flung Togean (or Togian) islands which were going to take 3 days of travelling to get to....oh what a joy!

Check back later for plenty of photos of the Toraja....we seem to be having trouble uploading at present, and are trying to figure out the problem.
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Eileen on

OMG !! didn't the caves stink !

Hikma Ristiana on

i want to visit Tana Toraja:)

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