Tana Toraja (320 kilometers north of Makassar) is the home of the Toraja people and is a rugged and beautiful highland area of lush river valleys, rice terraces, bamboo groves, fir trees, tropical rain forests, coffee plantations, jagged limestone cliffs, and limestone and granite outcrops. There are more than 300 Toraja villages in the area with traditional” tongkonan,” or family dwellings, and rice barns with high upturned roofs." Some of have grave sites. Each site is different and you may be able to see a Toraja funeral, the ultimate expression of Toraja culture.
A special bell shaped gate marks the entrance to the region. After the gate the road passes Kandora and Gandang which are according to Toraja legend are the mountains onto which their first ancestors descended. One knows that one has arrived to Torajaland when one see the "Most Holy Penis," a 300-meter-high rounded pinnacle of granite, and the "Most Sacred Vagina," which the Blair brothers wrote in the book “Ring of Fire” is an "exfoliated fissure, fringed with forest, about three football fields long." It was here among the clear streams, rice paddies, granite cliffs and virgin rain rainforest that the Toraja believe their ancestors descended in starships.
There are approximately 1.1 million Toraja, of which about 450,000 people live in the Toraja area. The number of visitors to the region has increased from 97,500 (12,500 foreign and 84,000 Indonesian) in 1984 to 255,000 (55,000 foreign and 200,000 Indonesian) in 1994 to 581,000 (30,000 foreign and 550,000 Indonesian) in 2016. The dry season is from April to October and peak tourist season is from June to September, particularly July and August when funerals are in full swing, when many of the hotels are fully booked and many people end up sleeping in hotel lobbies. Many Toraja expect to be paid for photographs.
The Toraja live in highlands and mountainous areas of South Sulawesi and Central Sulawesi. Also known as the Sa’dan Toraja, South Toraja, Tae’ Toraja, Toraa, Toraya, they are well know for their elaborate funeral rituals and cliff side graves and totems. Even though many are Christians they keep alive their old customs. The Toraja are broken down into subgroups. The Toraja group most associated with the group’s unusual custom is the Sa’dan Toraja who are named afer the Sada River, a major river in the area, and live around the towns of Rantepao and Makale. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993) ~]
Residing in an area called Tana Toraja, which is sometimes refereed to as the "Land of Heavenly Kings,” , the Toraja cling to ancient tribal traditions and mix them with Protestant Christianity. According to their traditional animist beliefs they believe their ancestors descended from heaven to a mountain top twenty generations ago. Their grand burial ceremonies involve great week-long feasts with buffalos sacrifices, after which the remains of the deceased are placed into a coffin and carried to a hollowed out cliff side cave by a frenzied procession. The opening of the cave is guarded by life-like statues that stand on a "balcony."
Tana Toraja occupies parts of Sulawesi Selatan, Sulawesi Barat, and Sulawesi Tengah provinces — and 200,000 others have left the region. The Toraja have been successful in gaining national and international attention. This group became prominent in the 1980s, largely because of the tourist industry, which was attracted to the region because of the picturesque villages and the group’s spectacular mortuary rites involving the slaughter of water buffalo. Inhabiting the wet, rugged mountains of the interior of southern Sulawesi, the Toraja grow rice for subsistence and coffee for cash. Traditionally, they lived in fortified hilltop villages with from two to 40 houses featuring large, dramatically sweeping roofs resembling buffalo horns. Until the late 1960s, many of these villages were politically and economically self-sufficient. This autonomy developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries partly as protection against the depredations of the slave trade and partly as a result of intervillage feuding associated with headhunting. [Source: Library of Congress]
The Toraja are ethnically different from the people in Sulawesi. Anthropologists believe Torajans are descended from voyagers who sailed from southern China as early as 3,000 B.C. They had no writing system of their own so most of what is known about them is from Buginese and Makassarese sources. They call their homeland Tana Torajada, Enrekang, Luwu, Poleweli and Mamasa. Toraja is a Bugi word that means unsophisticated and roughly means “hillbilly.”
For centuries the Toraja lived in a state of semi-independent and autonomous mountain villages in southern Sulawesi, occasionally getting into turf battles and headhunting raids with each other or with the Bugis in the south. Slaves and coffee were traded with Muslim lowlanders in return for guns, salt and textiles. Headhunting was never carried out on a large scale. It was primarily a test of manhood and was carried out mostly for the funerals of great chiefs to provide them with slaves for the afterlife. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993) ~]
Toraja independence ended in 1906, when they fought a war with the Dutch, who wanted to take complete control of Sulawesi. The Toraja fought the Dutch for two years. The last members of the Toraja resistance were defeated in the mountains around northwest of Ranepao. Defeat by the Dutch also brought a degree of unification among the Toraja which had not existed before. ~
Missionaries from the Calvinist reformed Church arrived in 1913 and set in motion mass conversions and dramatic social changes. The Toraja hunted heads until the 1920s and they were noted for the ability to raise the dead and make headless corpses walk. The Japanese were supposedly afraid of Toraja magic and afraid to enter their territory. According to one story a group of Japanese soldiers machine gunned down some Toraja resistance fighters who supposedly rose from the dead and their mutilated corpses walked back to their burial grounds. [Source: "Ring of Fire" by Lawrence and Lorne Blair, Bantam Books, New York]
With the oil boom in the 1960s and 1970s, there was massive out-migration among young upland Sulawesi men looking for jobs in northeastern Kalimantan. During this period, many of these youths became Christians. Although proselytization began among Toraja in the nineteenth century, mass conversions were provoked after the abortive 1965 coup and mass labor migrations in the 1970s and 1980s, a move that implied a rejection of many Toraja beliefs and practices. But when these migrants returned to their villages as wealthy men, they often wanted to hold large status displays in the form of funerals, causing what anthropologist Toby Alice Volkman has called “ritual inflation” as well as intense debates about the authenticity of their conversion to Christianity. Because of the successful efforts of highly placed Toraja officials in the central government, Toraja feasting practices have been granted official status, loosely described as agama Hindu. [Source: Library of Congress]
More than 80 percent of Toraja are Christians. Another eight percent are Muslims, and they live mainly in south of Tana Toraja. Only about 10 percent practice their traditional religion, Aluk Todolo (“Ways on the Ancestors”) although it is incorporated onto the belief systems of Christians and Muslims. Many Toraja still associate illnesses with curses and bad spirits and winds in the body. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993) ~]
Traditional beliefs often varied a great deal between Toraja groups. A lack of a written language and physical barriers such as mountains and dense forests resulted in many differences in different groups, Some groups emphasized certain gods, for example, that were ignored by others. Because of the worship of different gods, the Toraja religion was classified as a form of Hinduism by the Indonesian government. Puang Matua is the closest thing the Toraja have to a supreme God and he was grafted onto the Christian god. ~
Aluk Todolo blends ancestor worship and animism and is presided over by special priests. The sacred litany for Aluk Todolo begins: "Incline your ear to me, hear what flows from my mouth, For cupped in my hand, I hold the golden breasts of substitute for the ladder to heaven." The old religion is on the decline. Most of its followers are elderly Toraja. Many younger people are Christians. Many believe that Aluk Todolo may be lost within a couple of generations. ~
The Toraja believe their ancestors descended to earth from heaven to a mountain top many generations ago. They tell visitors, "Before the dawn of human memory our ancestors descended from the Pleiades in a starship." Their houses, they say, are built to resemble the spaceships that brought them to earth. Ritual sacrifices are made to ancestors who, in turn are expected to protect and provide blessings. [Source: "Ring of Fire" by Lawrence and Lorne Blair, Bantam Books, New York]
Tana Toraja Sights and Activities
Rantepao is the main tourist town in Tana Toraja. Around the town are many villages with traditional Toraja houses. It is place to walk or bicycle on the back roads to see the villages and the lovely countryside they are set in. In the town you can explore the colorful traditional ‘Pasar Bolu’ market where you can get top end Toraja coffee beans. At the weekly market you can see water buffaloes and pigs are being auctioned. Palawa the Toraja’s main weaving center and an excellent village to see traditional Toraja houses. Enrekang and Makale in the Toraja Highlands are surrounded by rocky volcanic cliffs. Do not miss these.
Ke’te Kesu’ contains a model Toraja village, with a row of beautifully decorated Tongkonan — or ancestral homes — and rice barns. The Tongkonan are the typical Toraja saddle-shaped roofed houses, reminiscent of buffalo horns. The walls of the houses are beautifully decorated with abstract and geometrical patterns in natural black, red and white. Ke’te Kesu’ is also known for its bamboo carvings and traditional handicrafts.
At Lemo are the “hanging graves” of the nobility, where crypts are carved high into steep rock cliffs, and wooden effigies of the deceased — called tau-tau — stand in a row on a balcony staring unseeingly over the green rice fields below. At Londa are caves piled up coffins that extend deep into the interior. At Suaya are the king’s family graves, while at nearby Sangala are the tree-graves of babies. The ancient Toraja believe that dead babies and children must be buried into a tree, where the tree will grow around the dead body.
On the slope of Sesean mountain (25 kilometers. from Rantepao) you can see the Batu Tumonga Plateau — the stone that faces the sky. From here you will find a spectacular panorama of terraced rice fields in the valley below shimmering like a patchwork in gradual hues of green, scattered with huge megalithic boulders. A number of these have been turned into grave caverns. Visit coffee plantations and enjoy walks through villages.
Sa’dan To’Barana’ (16 kilometers north of Rantepao) is a traditional plait center, located in the district of Sesean. This area is known for its traditional Toraja ‘ikat’ weaving.
Tourism in Toraja
Many of the tourists that come to Toraja, morbidly enough, come to check out the Toraja people’s unique culture and rituals, most of which are mostly centered around graves and death ceremonies. You can go to the tourist office and find out if and where funerals are taking place and then show up and watch the events, which typically involves the sacrificing of several or many water buffalo and pigs. There is often an area where tourist can observe the proceeding and generally they are welcome to eat the cooked meat from the sacrificed animals. If you are not into watching funerals there are plent of other things to do such as walking through the spectacular Toraja countryside, visiting remote villages, rafting on the Sa’dan river.
There are many good hotels in Makale, Ranteapo and other places and numerous travel agents and guides to take you around. You can get around by walking or cycling. Several hotels and places in Rantepao rent bicycles although they are not so great and it is difficult to get one with a high enough seat if you are tall. Bemos — small minibuses — are used by locals but you may have to wait a while for one to show up and get enough people to leave. If you want to see a lot of scattered around places it best to hire a vehicle (a taxi, minibus or SUV) with or without driver.
Tips: 1) Visitors are expected to respect to local customs and dress properly and to bring a token present, such as cigarettes or coffee when entering a Tongkonan, the Torajan traditional house. 2) As roads are not always paved, it is necessary to use a jeep or walk, even when the weather is good (between May and October). 3) Watch your head whenever going inside a Tongkonan, since passageways are low. 4) Tana Toraja is near the Equator but 700 meters above sea level. Days can be hot, but not super hot. and nights can be cool so bring appropriate clothing. 5) Things to Buy: There are souvenirs shops in Rantepao where you can buy everything specific from Tana Toraja. There are clothes, bags, wallets and other handicrafts.
Accommodation and Restaurants
Visitors who wish to stay in the heart of Toraja have many choices since there are many large and small hotels available, however, only few have their own website. Others may be booked through hotel reservation systems or travel agents. Or if you have an adventurous soul, you can sleep in villages on the way. For information on hotels and tours check: sulawesi-experience.com
Restaurants: Most of the time, you will not find restaurants near tourist sites; however warungs and restaurants appear along the road. Best bring your own lunch box. When taking a tour, your travel agent will take the group to a restaurant or provide lunch boxes in the bus.
The Toraja Heritage Hotel and the Toraja Prince Hotel are three star hotels located in Rantepao. Sallebayu Bungalows & Restaurant - Bonoran - Ke'te'/Kesu' - Rantepao - Tana Toraja, which operates 8 bungalows complete with air conditioning and all amenities, Tel/fax : +62 423 23469, E.mail : email@example.com.
Others include: 1) the one star Misiliana Toraja Hotel at Jalan Jurusan Makale, Rantepao; 2) The Marante Toraja Hotel at Jalan Jurusan Palopo, P.O Box 52, Rantepao; 3) The Marannu Hotel Toraja at Jalan Pongtiku 116-118, Makale, Tana Toraja; 4) The Indra Toraja Hotel at Jalan Landorundun 63, Rantepao
Toraja Heritage Hotel is built in the style of traditional Tongkonan houses. The 160 rooms and suites come with standard amenities, and have balconies facing the rice fields. Facilities include an outdoor pool, overlooking the mountains, mountain bikes available for rent, two restaurants, spa, fitness center, and Jacuzzi. Toraja Heritage Hotel, Jl. Kete Kesu, P.O. Box 80, South Sulawesi, Tel: 62 — 4232 1192, E mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Sales_marketing@torajaheritage.com, Website: torajaheritage.com
Hotel MaranteToraja provides spacious guest rooms with private terraces overlooking the Torajan landscape. Tranditional Tongkonan Cottages offer a choice of two levels, and are tastefully furnished and equipped according to international standards. Room rates range from USD 100 — 300, and are valid for single or double occupancy. Hotel MaranteToraja, Jurusan Palopo, P.O. Box 52, Rantepao, North Toraja, South Sulawesi, Tel. 62 — 4232 1616, E mail: email@example.com, Website: marantetoraja.com
Toraja Misiliana Hotel has been owned and run by a local Torajan family since 1980, providing a warm family atmosphere, and a “home away from home.” The hotel is just 12 kilometers from Pongtiku airport, and is easily accessible by public transport. 101 Spacious rooms combine traditional Torajan culture with Western design, and are all complete with private shower, mini-bar, in house movies and satellite TV. Facilities include room service, laundry service, tennis court, swimming pool, conference and meeting rooms, ballroom with 750 person occupancy, and shopping arcade. Room rates from IDR 700,000 — 2,500,000. Toraja Misiliana Hotel, Jl. Pontiku No. 2, Rantepao, Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi, Tel. 62 — 4232 1212 / 62 - 4232 1575, Website: torajamisiliana.com
Getting to Tana Toraja
To reach Toraja take a plane to Makassar. Sultan Hasanuddin airport in Makassar is an airline hub for East Indonesia and there are many airlines flying to Makassar from Jakarta, Bali, Manado and other cities There are daily flights from Jakarta and Bali and regular flights from Kuala Lumpur Malaysia.
Most people cover the 350 kilometers from Makassar to Rantapao by bus, which takes between 8 and 10 hours. Some take the night bus. Others go by boat to Pare-Pare and travel three hours to Rantepao by bus. There are or were flights on small 17-seat and 25-seat Cessna-style planes from Makassar to Rantepao with DAS airlines. The runway at the Rantepao airports is too small to accommodate larger planes.If you decide to fly, you will arrive at Pong Tiku Airport in Rantetayo, TanaToraja, within 55 minutes. The plane flies only twice a week : Tuesdays & Fridays at 10:00a.m.
From Makassar there are many buses everyday to Ranteapo, the main tourist town in Tana Toraja. The journey takes around 8 hours and includes a meal stop. Tickets must be bought in Makassar city but coaches actually leave from Daya bus terminal, 20 minutes out of town by bemo. Coaches typically leave in the morning (7 am ), around noon ( 1 pm ) and in the evening (at 7 pm). Often you can make arrangements with hotels for these buses. The buses stop at some hotels on the main road. The night buses are kind of uncomfortable to sleep in but they deposit you in Ranteapo in the morning so you can enjoy a full day there.
Several companies in Rantepao run buses back to Makassar. The number of buses each day depends on the number of passengers. It is best and easiest to contact an experienced travel agent to arrange and take care of your full itinerary to the Toraja highlands. You may rent a car for about Rp.850,000 to Rp. 1,200,000 one-way.
The road from Makassar to Toraja runs along the coast for about 130 kilometers and then hits the mountains. After the entrance to Tana Toraja at the market village of Mebali one enters a majestic landscape of giant, gray granites and stones and blue mountains afar that form a sharp contrast with the lively green of the fertile, rain-fed terraces and the rusty red of the tropical soil.
Rantepao (350 kilometers from Makassar by road) is where most visitors to Toraja stay. It has a busy main street and a number of small hotels, restaurants and arts and crafts stores. Many visitors stop by the Bamboo Music School to watch children do dances and play bamboo flutes. A large and colorful market is held every six days. Particularly interesting are the fighting cock, water buffalo and pig markets. You can also load up on fresh rice-paddy-raised eels and freshly ground coffee.
The biggest attractions of Rantepao are the countryside and the Torajan villages around it. There are interesting places to explore in all directions. One day and two day rafting trips are available on the Sadan River. There are nice hikes between Tikala, about seven kilometers north of Rantepao, and Batuumonga. Funerals are usually held after the rice harvest, from September to December, when people have money to pay for the expensive events. Small funerals are held year round. Visitors who show up for the funerals are advised to dress in respectable clothes — preferably black — and bring a gift of sugar or clove cigarettes.
Guides are available for between $15 and $25 a day. They will make their presence known to you when you stroll around town. To hit the main attraction is easy enough with public transportation and a good map. The tourist office offers pretty good information. The nice hotels are the Hotel Indra II ($40 for a double) and the Marunnu City resort ($70 for a double). Cheaper budget digs are available. Vehicles with a driver and guide can be hired for about $60 a day. Bicycles and motorbikes can also be rented.
Londa: Burial Caves, Tau Taus and Hanging Graves
Londa (six kilometers north of Rantepao off the main road between Rantepao and Makale) contains hanging graves that belonged to ancient nobles that are filled with effigies to the dead. There are coffins shaped like boats and coffins shaped like pigs. Some of them hang high up on the cliffs. Inside the caves are more coffins as well as skulls and bones. A row of about a dozen and half tat tau are arranged on a terrace. Guides with kerosene lamps can be hired to take you inside the graves to see the skeletons and old coffins.
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Londa Site is a grave site where two methods of burial are customary. Here, the coffins of ordinary people are placed in caves and crevices at the foot of the hill, while the remains of persons of higher rank rest in burial chambers carved from the wall of the limestone cliff. The latter are accompanied by Tau-tau, placed close to the chamber. The higher the status of the deceased, the higher the chamber, which can be situated as far as 50 meters from the ground.” [Source: Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia]
“On the walls of a steep hill, coffins hang from cracks in the rocky face. Lifelike wooden sculptures or effigies complete with clothes, stand in neat rows in cracks hollowed out in the cliff faces, very much like the windows & balconies of a house. These represent the dead who are buried there.. Not far from this hanging grave hides a burial cave many hundreds of years old.”
On the walls of the cliffs around the cave, rows of wooden statues called Tau-taus can be seen in the chiseled stone cliffs. Usually made from jackfruit wood, a tau-tau is a carved effigy meant to look like person whose body is buried nearby. The wood used for this carving tends to yellow with age, often attaining a color not so different than that of human skin. Some tau-taus are carefully carved with special attention given to details such as wrinkles on the face, or sagging skin on the neck due to aging.
Close to the rows of tau-tau, wooden coffins are firmly secured to the cliff walls by wooden beams. These coffins or caskets (erong) are said to indicate the level of honour or nobility of the person buried there. The higher the casket or coffin is located on the cliff walls, the higher the status of the persons buried there. The Torajans believe that the dead can take their wealth with them into the afterlife. One reason why they bury the coffins in high places is to protect the buried treasure from thieves. They also believe that the higher the coffin lies the shorter the journey is for the deceased to enter into Heaven.
Around the caves, you might see bones scattered here and there. These bones fell from a cliff-hanging coffin that broke off at some time because its wooden holds and supports were damaged or rotted with time. The fallen skulls and bones may once again be placed in a new coffin. However, expensive ceremonies have to be performed once again, similar to when the deceased was buried in its first coffin.
This customary funeral ceremony known as Rambu Solo, is an age-old tradition for deceased noblemen of Toraja. In order to carry out this ceremony, surviving relatives of the deceased sacrifice approximately 24 to 100 buffaloes (for the nobility) or approximately 8 buffaloes and 50 pigs (for the middle class). It is not unusual for the surviving relatives to take many months or even years to save up for enough all that is needed to carry out the Rambu Solo ceremony. While waiting for this ceremony to take place, the corpse is not considered completely dead yet. Therefore, the dead body is stored in a traditional vernacular house (tongkonan) and treated as a living person, for example, by giving his or her favorite foods, cigarettes, and more. Other objects are also placed beside the coffin as offerings. Before the corpse is stored it is embalmed to avoid stench and odor.
Visiting Londa Hanging Graves
Londa’s burial caves are found in the village of Sandan Uai, in the Sanggalangi District. It is easy to get there by bemo (minivan), ojek (motorcycle taxi) or rental car. To get to the tomb caves of Londa, one must descend a number of stairs but just before you do, you will be approached by a member of the local community offering you lanterns for rent costing about Rp. 20,000. You will need a light to find your way into and around the cave. Aside from renting a lantern, you may also bring your own flashlight to light your way, or ask your tour guide to provide one for you. Special Londa Tour guides for the tomb caves do not normally have a fixed rate so you may bargain for a good deal.
From a distance the cliff sides appear lush & green with the forest trees. If you are observant, however, you will notice colorful coffins tucked into crevices of the cliff walls. At the foot of this lushgreen cliff lies a cave which is used as a tomb. As you explore the cave you will find more skulls and bones scattered here and there. In some places, the coffins may appear to be arranged in a particular manner. These were appropriately arranged according to lineage or family ancestry. Aside from the coffins, you will also notice clothing or cigarettes deliberately placed there by relatives of the deceased. Reportedly, some of these bones in the cave are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of years old.
The natural tomb caves of Londa may be up to 1000 meters deep. In exploring the contours of the tomb cave filled with stalagmites and stalactites, one needs to be very careful. Some parts of the cave are only a meter high so you will have to hunched over or crawl. Be sure that you do not move or even consider taking with you any of the bones, skulls or other artifacts you see lying within the tomb area as it a great offense to the Toraja and breaks the trust that allows visitors to enter the caves. Ask permission before entering the cave and bring a gift such as betel nut as an expression of gratitude. If parts of a cliff naturally give way and a coffin originally placed there falls off, the spilled skulls, bones & any other objects may not be moved without customary approval and a series of traditional ceremonies of the Toraja.
Lemo (10 kilometers north of Rantepao off the main road between Rantepao and Makale) contains burial chambers are cut out of rock and adorned with balconies that contain tau taus. There used to be more tau taus but many were stolen and other were hidden away so they wouldn’t be stolen. Sometimes workers are here digging out new graves.“Lemo Site is also a cliff burial site with galleries of ancestor statues. In contrast to Londa, coffins here are not deposited in caves or crevices at the foot of the hill. To the north lies a compound of four granaries and one Tongkonan.”
Palawa (10 kilometers north of Rantepao) is a good place to see Tongkonan (boat-shaped houses). In one place there are several tongkonan built facing each other with each facing a rice barn built like a boat-shaped house. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The “Pallawa Site is a compound of houses and granaries. In total there are 11 houses and 15 granaries. Like many Toraja compounds, the Pallawa houses and granaries are arranged in two parallel rows aligned east-west direction. The houses face north, while the granaries face south. The entrance is situated in the western side of the compound. The ceremonial ground lies about 350 meters to the east.” The town sits on a hill with a burial place nearby, where festivals and celebrations are held. There is also a wood handicraft center in Palawa. West from Palawa towards Batutumonga there are several tongkonam supported on pillars covered with water buffalo horns. [Source: Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia]
Mamasa Valley (west of Tana Toraja) is a more isolated and less visited area that is stunning in its beauty and somewhat similar to Tana Toraja. It has 40 places where one can see coffins and graves. These places can only be visited by trekking. It is possible to hike between Tana Toraja and the Mamasa Valley. Traditional houses in he Mamasa Valley are somewhat similar to those in Toraja but they have heavier and less graceful and curved. Mamasa is 12 hours by bus or three days by foot from Rantepao, or 10 hours by bus from Makassar.
Makale and Place Near It
Makale (320 kilometers from Makassar, 16 kilometers from Rantapao) is the capital of Torajaland. Centered around an artificial lake, it is slightly larger than Rantepao and also has a number of hotels and a market held every six days. . Makale is on the southern side of Torajaland and has access to many interesting spots but is not as centrally located at Rantapao.
Sights Between Rantepao and Makale include Karasi, with traditional Torajan houses arranged around megaliths; Kete Kesu, with hanging grave and life-size tau tau statues guarding over the grave site; and Palatokke, where cliffside graves are surrounded by lush rice fields. Sangalla is a famous mummy of a child. Kanuruan is a village in Torajaland, where funerals are often held.
Tampangalla (about 10 kilometers from meters Makale near the village of Suaya) is a vertical limestone cliff with carved effigies. Inside a cave you can see tau tau perched on a ledge and piles of skulls. Nearby in Kembria village there are several baby graves for children who died before their soul appeared. The graves consist of hollowed-out sections of tree which are covered up with fibers from sugar palms.
Toraja Sites Around Batutumonga
Batutumonga (20 kilometers north of Rantepao) is beautiful-situated on the slopes of Mt. Seasan. There are lovely views of the region, traditionally Torajan houses and easy access to other Torajan Villages, There are some cheap homestays here and surprisingly nice guest houses, Many organized trips stop here for lunch.
From Batutumonga one can hike to Lokomata, with cave graves; Pana, with ancient hanging graves; and Deri with traditional houses, funeral sites and cliff graves; There are splendid views of the area and hundreds of rice paddies from Mt. Seasan near Batutumonga and the road between Deri and Batu Tumonga. . The climb to the top of 2150-meter-high Mt. Sesean takes about five hours there and back.
Sights between Rantepao and Batuumonga include the Stonehenge-like megaliths and a huge boulder cave at Bori; and ikat wall hangings in Sadan. There is a wonderful weekly market at Bolu with women in huge straw hats haggling over bananas, pineapples, watermelon, rice, eggplants, chili peppers, coriander and ginger.
Toraja Sites Components
Tana Toraja Traditional Settlement was nominated to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Tana Toraja Traditional Settlement is a series of 10 traditional settlements or constituents of them, such as burial or ceremonial grounds. The properties are scattered within Tana Toraja Regency in the Province of South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Tana-Toraja occupies about 3.205 square kilometers of a relatively hilly terrain with plateaus rising from 300 to 2,800 meters above sea level. [Source: Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia]
The nominated Tana Toraja Traditional Settlement consists of 10 sites which are dispersed in the Tana Toraja Regency (see part I). Traditionally, a Toraja settlement consists of a compound of houses (tongkonan) and granaries (alangs), burials (liang), ceremonial grounds with menhirs (rante), rice-fields, bamboo forests, and grazing ground or pasture for buffalo and pigs. However, not all the nominated sites possess all the settlement components, on account of developmental changes in each site. A brief description of the nominated sites is provided in part I Identification of the Property. The following descriptions present some complementary information about each site.The properties of the proposed Tana Toraja Traditional Settlement can be briefly described as follows: [Source: UNESCO]
1) Pallawa Site is a compound of houses and granaries. In total there are 11 houses and 15 granaries. Like many Toraja compounds, the Pallawa houses and granaries are arranged in two parallel rows aligned east-west direction. The houses face north, while the granaries face south. The entrance is situated in the western side of the compound. The ceremonial ground lies about 350 meters to the east.
2) Bori Parinding Site is a combination of ceremonial grounds and burials. The ceremonial ground is an open space used for traditional ceremonies, including rituals for the dead and thanksgiving. More than a hundred menhirs stand on the ceremonial ground, each representing a feast of merit performed in the past by a person of high status. Human remains are placed in stone chambers carved out of huge stone boulders, which lies scattered around the ceremonial ground. There are five tongkonan compound spread around the area. Bamboo is now planted in some places around the ceremonial ground to replace the extinct bamboo forest of the traditional settlement.
3) Kande Api Site consists of a compound of houses and granaries, ceremonial ground and burial places. There are 4 houses and 11 granaries within the compound. The houses and granaries stand respectively in the southeast and northwest, facing each other. An open space of about 20 meters wide runs the length of the compound, separating the houses and granaries. The ceremonial ground is an elevated piece of land lying about 75 meters southwest of the compound. A church has been built in the north-eastern corner, surrounded by a considerable number of standing menhirs. Towering limestone cliffs lie some 25-50 meters north of the compound. In the past, the foot of these hills served as a burial site for the Kande Api people.
4) Nanggala Site site is principally a compound of 2 houses (tongkonan) and 16 granaries (alang), arranged in rows and aligned east-west. The houses and granaries lie respectively on the southern and northern ends of the compound, facing each other. Between them, an open space is used for social interaction and family gatherings. The compound is surrounded by a low stone wall with an entrance on the western side. To the east lies the ceremonial ground (rante) and graveyard, where several wooden coffin houses (patane) are placed.
5a) Buntu Pune Site: Formerly, the sites of Buntu Pune and Rante Karassik belonged to one integrated settlement. Buntu Pune was the dwelling compound and Rante Karassik was the ceremonial ground. Although these sites are now separated due to recent development, the sites still function as they did in the past. In this nomination, therefore, both sites are considered as a single unit of traditional settlement and numbered 5a and 5b respectively.
5b) Rante Karassik Site is a ceremonial ground on a sloping hill. As mentioned above, this site is actually a part of the Buntu Pune traditional settlement. Until today, the Buntu Pune people still use the ground for certain ceremonies, in particular those connected with death. Since Rante Karassik is situated quite far from the Buntu Pune compound, the two sites appear to be quite separate. Uniting them is no longer possible, since recent development has resulted in a dense population of the area in between.
- Ke'te Kesu' Site is compound with 6 Tongkonan houses and 12 granaries. The houses and granaries are laid out in the traditional arrangement and one of the houses serves as a museum. To the north, at a distance of about 50 meters, lies the ceremonial ground, displaying more than 20 menhirs. Among the nominated sites, Ke'te' Kesu' is the most complete settlement. The site consists of a compound of houses and granaries, burial place, ceremonial ground, ricefields and water-buffalo pasture. The cultural landscape around Ke'te' Kesu' makes this area one of the most beautiful places in Tana Toraja.
7) Pala' Toke' Site is principally a burial place located on a towering limestone hill, from where a rice field extends to the north, east and west. A compound of 4 houses and 5 granaries, as well as a ceremonial ground displaying menhirs, lies about 200 meters north of the burial place.
8) Londa Site is a grave site where two methods of burial are customary. Here, the coffins of ordinary people are placed in caves and crevices at the foot of the hill, while the remains of persons of higher rank rest in burial chambers carved from the wall of the limestone cliff. The latter are accompanied by Tau-tau, placed close to the chamber. The higher the status of the deceased, the higher the chamber, which can be situated as far as 50 meters from the ground.
9) Lemo Site is also a cliff burial site with galleries of ancestor statues. In contrast to Londa, coffins here are not deposited in caves or crevices at the foot of the hill. To the north lies a compound of four granaries and one Tongkonan.
10) Tumakke Site displays a distinctive traditional house built on a raised terrace. Although its construction is no different to the common Toraja dwelling, the saddle-like roof of the Tumakke house is covered with stone slabs measuring 50-60cm long, 30-40cm wide and 5-10cm thick. On the north-eastern side of the house, at a distance of some 5 meters, stands a small granary.”
The Tana Toraja sites are important because: 1) They “still retain the characteristics of early Austronesian culture. These can be demonstrated by Toraja cosmology, ceremonies, settlement arrangement, houses, decorations, and the role of water buffalo. In this regard, the heritage has an indispensable scientific value as a source of analogy to study the past. 2) They are “part of living tradition. It is a manifestation of Aluk Todolo, the Toraja belief system which governs the life of the society. It is related to various ceremonies and customs within the Toraja cultural system. Indeed, it has emotional ties with the society. The nominated heritage has a strong identity as well as social values not only for Toraja people but also for Austronesian ethnic groups which makes up the majority of the Indonesian population.
Kete Kesu Village
Ke’te Kesu (half hour drive from Rantepao) is a compound with six Tongkonan houses and 12 granaries. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: : “The houses and granaries are laid out in the traditional arrangement and one of the houses serves as a museum. To the north, at a distance of about 50 meters, lies the ceremonial ground, displaying more than 20 menhirs. Among the nominated sites, Ke'te' Kesu' is the most complete settlement. The site consists of a compound of houses and granaries, burial place, ceremonial ground, ricefields and water-buffalo pasture. The cultural landscape around Ke'te' Kesu' makes this area one of the most beautiful places in Tana Toraja.” [Source: Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia]
Kete Kesu sits amidst a vast expanse of rice fields, and is the oldest village in the Sanggalangi district. Over 400 years old, and said to have changed little in that time, it functions as a sort of living museum, where one can experience first-hand the culture and traditions of the ancient Torajan people. At Kete Kesu one can see extravagant funeral ceremonies, hanging graves and decorative burial sites. The Ke’te Kesu’ are said to have the most well-preserved megalithic culture and death-celebrating traditions in all of Toraja.
Kete Kesu is home to about 20 families. It is comprised of eight “Tongkonan”, set in rows facing each other, complete with connected rice barns. The walls of the Tongkonan are adorned with beautiful carvings and buffalo horns, which serve as a mark of the homeowner’s status. A Tongkonan is the traditional house of the Torajan people, distinguished by its oversized boat-shaped roof. The construction of Tongkonan is a laborious task, and usually requires the help of all family members. In the original Toraja Society, only those of noble blood were given the right to build Tongkonan, while the common people lived in smaller, less elaborate houses.
Not far behind the Tongkonan, menhirs rise from the rice fields, marking the way to the eerie hill of Bukit Buntu Ke’su. Bukit Buntu Ke’su is an ancient burial site, estimated at over 700 years old. The rocky hillside is scattered with human skulls and bones, some piled high into large canoe-shaped vessels. The face of the cliff is hollowed with caves, which are ancient crypts. The caves were carved by masters of their skill, and take many months to make.
According to tradition, those of noble status were buried in higher holes, while commoners rested at the foot of the hill. Torajans believe that the higher one is buried, the easier the pathway to Paradise. Haunting, life size tau-tau, which are effigies of the dead, perch high across face of the cliff. Built to resemble the deceased, they stand watch outside each tomb, as symbols of each cave’s “inhabitants.”Some of the tombs are secured with iron bars to prevent the theft of these. Coffins also hang from the walls of the hill, shaped in various forms of dragons, pigs, and buffalo. The wooden crates were engraved with great accuracy and beauty, but are now crumbling with age.
Visiting Kete Kesu Village During the Funeral Season
The best time to visit Ke’te Kesu’, and experience the “full cultural tour” is from June to December. “Rambo Solok” is usually held during these months, and can last up to a week. Rambo Solok is an elaborate, traditional funeral, and is the most important ceremony in Toraja. High Funeral season is between July and October.
Tens to hundreds of buffalo are slaughtered during the ceremony, as Torajans believe that animal spirits are a vehicle for the soul to reach Nirvana. Buffalo are also a symbol of wealth and power; the number of animals sacrificed signifying the status of the individual. For the middle class, 8 buffalo and 50 pigs are required for the ceremony, while nobility may require up to 100 buffalo. The buffalo horns and jaws are accumulated over generations, and are used to decorate the Tongkonan, boasting the number of animals sacrificed at the funerals.
Rambo Solok is an extremely expensive ceremony and can be postponed for many months or even years, in order to meet with the detailed rules and extensive preparation. During this time, the bodies are stowed in a chamber in the home, and should not be buried on the hill. According to tradition, those buried in secret without ceremony and sacrifice, will bring shame to their ancestors in paradise as well as their descendants on earth. Tadibaa Bongi is a term for those whose death is not celebrated, and is used to express cowardice and dishonour to the family.
After the slaughtering of the beasts, the last rites are held in the community church — the majority Torajans being Christians. Then the coffin is carried in procession to the burial site. Crowds trail behind, clapping, laughing and cheering, as is custom to scare the evil spirits. Painstakingly, the men carry the coffin up a long, bamboo ladder, and into its allotted grave. At last, the coffin is positioned in its final resting place, and the people say their last goodbyes.
The people of Ke’te Kesu’ are renowned as highly skilled craftsmen. Unique ornaments of bamboo and stone are carved in abstract and geometric patterns, seemingly without the use of mathematical calculations. Many souvenirs can be bought in and around the Ke’te Kesu’ village including coasters, jewellery, wall hangings, tau-tau, and even traditional weapons. Coasters, bracelets and necklaces are sold for a few thousand rupiah, while intricate wall hangings and engraved paintings can be priced at a few million rupiah.
One of the Tongkonan has been converted into a museum, displaying strange, historic objects of ancient customs. Chinese ceramics, sculptures, daggers and machetes, and even a flag, said to be the first flag flown in Toraja. The Museum also conducts bamboo craft workshops for those who would like to try their hand at this skill.
Rafting on Toraja’s Sa’dan River
One day and two day rafting trips are available on the Sadan River, The one day trip cost $45. The rapids are not too difficult. Rafter pass through traditional Torajan villages and see lots of iguanas. The Sa’dan river which follows the road as one travels from Makale to Rantepao in the highlands of Toraja, is the lifeblood of the people of Toraja, as its waters are used to irrigate the surrounding fertile ricefields and provides water for both humans and cattle in this largely agricultural land.
The Sa’dan river has its source in the mountains north of Rantepao and is one of the longest rivers on the island of Sulawesi, flowing a distance of 182 kilometers, measuring 80 meters at its widest point. Along this long route, the river sometimes moves slowly over flat terrains, but often rushes swiftly over big boulders down slopes.
Rafting much of the Sa’dan river can be done in two days, offering challenges from grade 3 to grade 5, passing picturesque ricefields, quaint traditional villages, steep gorges and high rocky mountains. The rapids at Puru are grade three, the Seba Rapids are grade 4, with the fastest being the Fitri rapids at grade 5 challenges. It us better to have some rafting experience before tackling this river. The Sa’dan has some difficult stretches. Be careful of the long stretches of rapids, strong currents, dangerous rocks and places with whirlpool. The conditions can be especially dangerous after heavy rains and trips can be cancelled.
The start of rafting is at the hanging bridge of Buah Kayu, north of Rantepao, a 3.5 hours ride by four-wheel drive vehicle, and finishes at the Pappi bridge at Enrekang. Participants do not need to worry about accommodation, since there are many homes along the river to stay the night.
There are a number of operators, professionals in handling white water rafting tours on the Sa’dan river. You can’t do this trip by yourself and make sure you don’t use some fly-by-night operations. Hotels and travel agencies in Rantepao can set you up. You can also try: 1) Mountain Travel Sobek, pioneers of white water rafting in Sumatra, Bali and Toraja: mtsobek.com; 2) Sella Indo Expedition: sellatours.com
West Sulawesi Province covers 16,787.18 square kilometers. Its population rose from 1,158,651 in 2010 to 1,284,620 in 2014. Its population density is 76.5 people per square kilometer. Several kingdoms used to exist here, fourteen to be exacts: Balanipa, Banggae, Bambang, Binuang, Pamboang, Sendana, Tappalang, Mamuju, Rante Bulahan, Aralie, Mambi, Tabulahan, Matangga and Tabang. Today, West Sulawesi is known for its cocoa, coffee (robusta and arabica), clove and coconut. Gold, coal and oil mining also help to make this province more prosperous. West Sulawesi became a separate province in 2004. It used to be a part of South Sulawesi.
Mamuju as the capital of West Sulawesi. Administratively, the province is divided into five regencies. Geographically, the province is located between the golden Triangle of South Sulawesi, East Kalimantan and Central Sulawesi as well as directly faces national and international sailing route of Makassar straits. The province embraces ocean coastline, lowlands and highlands. There is a lot of fertile land. Climate is generally tropical.
Tampa Padang Airport 27 kilometers from Mamuju capital city. At the Belang-Belang Bakengkeng Harbor in Mamuju District the Ferry Simboro Mamuju Harbor connects to Mamuju-Balikpapan, Batulicin, Surabaya, Ujung Polewali Mandar, Palippi natural harbor in Majene;,Manakara Harbor in Mamuju.
West Sulawesi is the home of the Mandar people, who hav e been known for centuries for their seafaring abilities. They are dominant group in this area, but you can also find Toraja, Bugis, Makassarese, Javanese and others here. Using their traditional sandeq boats, Mandar people cruise to all over Indonesia and reached as far as present-day Malaysia and Australia. People who live in mountainous areas have a culture similar to that of the Torajans, especially in terms of house architecture, language, clothes and traditional ceremonies.
Being close to the sea, seafood is one of the specialties of West Sulawesi. Flying fish eggs are considered a delicacy and if you're offered some, be grateful because it they are greatly treasured and are usually only served during special occasions. You can also find it in certain hotels or restaurants. Pupu and fried tuna fish cakes should also be tried. Generally West Sulawesi dishes are spicy, a bit sour but still delicious. Tourism Office: Dinas Kebudayaan dan Pariwisata Prov. Sulawesi Barat, Jl. Ahmad Kirang, Mamuju Sulawesi Barat, Tel. (62-426) 21092
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Indonesia Tourism website ( indonesia.travel ), Indonesia government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020