Mmm Mutilated Buffalo

Trip Start Aug 22, 2005
Trip End Feb 06, 2006

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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Ok this is a weird one. Anyone squeamish avoid the photos of sacrificed buffalo...

So we arrived in Tana Toraja after 30hrs straight traveling. It was literally a breath of fresh air seeing all the rice paddies whizzing past. We stayed in a replica Torajan house, supposedly representing the horns of a buffalo or alternatively the bow and stern of a ship. To be honest I couldn't figure out why exactly they don't know what it represents!! Especially seeing as it appeared to be a major symbol of their culture... Another Indonesian mystery. Anyway, the major thrill of this place was HOT water! O.k. that may sound a little sad to you, but trust me, once you've adjusted to this climate a cold shower is still a cold shower! I've realised that I will really appreciate the little luxuries I take for granted at home. When I travelled before lumping the discomfort was a challenge, but now I know my weaknesses!! Perhaps I'm just getting older?!

Anyway, this place was Beautiful (with a capital B). Very peaceful and plenty of markets to stock up on fruit (dried bat, rat, dog and buffalo too). I went a bit crazy on the passion fruit after spotting the same type I had in India, not like those purple tangy shrivelled things in the UK. The Mangoes come in about 5 different varieties, ranging from very sweet to almost tasting like potato... perhaps it's my fruit squeezing skills... Marcus has got into this disgusting little fruit called 'salak'/snakefruit, covered in a brown scaly shell. It was supposed to have a 'nutty flavour', but all the ones I've ever tasted give you serious salak breath. Marcus is next to me swearing blind it is nutty... It's not. I wonder whether I will resent paying so much for fruit when I get home, but then I can't really take that view. We pay to have the choice available. It may not be entirely natural to be able to get mangoes in the dead of winter but at least we have the choice. And I figure that if I do get a bee in my bonnet I just won't buy the things. After the fruit squeezing we wandered through the clothes markets looking at all the dodgy rip offs, Mike trainers for all!

Before the Dutch had their wicked way with Sulawesi the Torajans had grand ceremonies for just about everything, the birth of a chicken, buying new socks etc. Now the only big ceremony that remains is to bury their dead. These rites can last up to five days, starting with cock fighting and Torajan martial arts, moving on to the sacrifice of a number of animals befitting the status of the deceased and finally ending with a strange show of putting the coffin in a cave. Once a family member passes away they are injected with formaldehyde (it used to be with herbs and spices a la Egypt, but that was a bit messy truth be told) and kept in the family home for as long as it takes to raise the cash necessary for a funeral. This can be as long as 6 months! Up until that point the dead are given meals, talked to and generally treated as still with the living. Only when the dead are removed from the house on the last day are they treated as gone and the mourning can begin.

The family constructs big open air huts to receive mourners, well-wishers/freeloaders there to accept the free meat, coffee, kretek (clove cigarettes) and anything else the family gives out in hospitality. We took along lots of kretek and some sweet fried rice sticks to drink with the coffee. We were shown into the hut with the immediate family, with our guide to translate. This apparently reflected our status as guests of honour! But the real etiquette problems come from the distribution of sacrificed meat, as all hell can break loose if the prime cuts of meat/head/testicles etc are not given to the upper echelons of society and closest family members.

From there we could watch the grisly action. Very slowly throughout the morning more and more people arrived, bringing with them gifts and frequently, a pig tied to a stick... They made a great deal of noise being carried in all trussed up and even more noise when they were carried away. We followed a fated little piggy around the back of the hut and watched as a man stuck a knife in just under its armpit (apparently a quicker death than slitting the throat, perhaps it reaches the heart?). I can now fully comprehend the meaning of squealing like a stuck pig. Even more bizarre were the toddlers messing about, happily poking the pigs guts with a stick etc... After the slaying they put the pig on a fire to burn off the hair and then prepared it for distribution.

Unfortunately we missed the buffalo beheading. Actually I thought it quite fortunate, but Marcus was bereft. It took a few pig slaughters to console him and we enjoyed watching everything after that. We had lunch in the next village, under one of their precious rice barns, where it was a bit quieter and we could talk to a few of the villagers. They gave us 'Tuak', a fermented palm wine. It was very fresh and apparently gets more sour as the day goes on. To start with it was ok, but then I couldn't really hack it(!). It was fizzy and had a dour aftertaste. Drinking it out of a long piece of bamboo did add a novelty factor though, I was almost tempted to challenge Marcus to drink a yard... but it was 30 degrees and I didn't fancy having to carry him 5 miles home.

We walked about 10km on the first day (before the funeral), taking in all the grave caves in the area. The Torajans bury their dead in caves and the highest classes also carve 'Tau-Tau'. These are lifelike wooden statues that are placed on ledges outside the caves in order to guard them from evil spirits and looters. They make an impressive sight, rows and rows of them over the entrances. It was a lovely walk; everybody was very friendly and welcoming, even though we had come to gawk at their dead.

We met an Israeli guy along the way. We thought there was something a bit wrong with him at first; he seemed a bit twitchy! Israeli travelers get very bad press, no matter where you go in the world. They are seen as cheap and rude. I don't know why. I met a girl in Cuba who was lovely, but I am aware that many people have complained about an 'Israeli attitude'.

It turned out he has spent his ENTIRE life travelling. He was 42 and had literally been everywhere. He spends a few months in Spain, Germany or somewhere in Europe for a few months of the year, makes enough money to live on, then takes off again. We had to wonder whether there really was something wrong with him to cut all ties to everything. Sure he must make friends along the way, but still, he doesn't stay anywhere long enough for anything to be meaningful. It did sound nice until we had actually thought it through. I mean, this guy doesn't even take photos anymore. Understandable I guess, what with no home to keep the photos/cds (and no friends to show them to!), but what's the point of seeing all these places if he's not even going to remember them? I asked about a few places I had been to before and he had been there but couldn't remember anything. He actually said he would never settle down, by which he meant he'll keep going until he can't walk.

Anyway, we spent a good few days wandering around, taking things in. On our last day we hired a guide called Hendrik. I thought we might have problems with him even before we had left the house, mainly because when I asked him a question he completely ignored me and instead answered the question to Marcus!! But instead of following my instincts we went with him. Don't get me wrong, we had a GREAT day, but it was definitely added to by the odd looks me and Marcus gave each other every time this guy opened his mouth! I think he was trying to impress us whilst simultaneously putting us down. I found it all very amusing, as he was clearly lying about some of the things he was telling us about. We decided not to challenge him as he was a bit unpredictable, but realised that although our principles and logic would allow us to show him up and draw attention to the gaping holes and inconsistencies in his tales, there was essentially no point! He was never going to change so we learnt a lesson and just humoured him.

Rantepao is definitely one of those places where days can go to weeks, especially if you get off the main tourist walks and into the villages. The food is pretty incredible too! The Pai-Pong Torajan specialty we tried was very good. They stuff pork/chicken/buffalo into a piece of bamboo with a kind of spinach and serve it up with black rice and more veg.
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