Tana Toraja is a geographical but also a cultural term that marks the province on the south side of the island of Sulawesi, once known as Celebes, in Indonesia. Although situated on the island, which is about 2,000 kilometres long and where more than 20 million people live, Toraja does not lie on the sea shore.
It is hidden behind high mountains that prevented its inhabitants to come into contact with the world until the last century. The first settlers were Dutch colonists who used this fertile part of the island for plantations of coffee, tobacco and various spices. They brought their religious beliefs with them, so many of today’s inhabitants are of Protestant religion. It is interesting to see Christian churches in the environment of the most fertile and largest Muslim country – Indonesia. They declare themselves as Christians, but although their tradition is deeply rooted in their society, one can frequently experience their customs and ceremonies that have nothing to do with Christianity.
For example, they worship the cult of the dead and funerals are the most important ceremony in their society. It is difficult to accurately describe these customs because there is more than one version of each of them, but it’s notable that the dead are kept in homes a few months before the funeral. Also, they do not bury them, but instead leave them in caves or in mausoleums on the surface. On some locations, we saw the coffins near caves outdoors in plain sight.
Bones and skulls can be seen outdoors in such places. During the funeral, a big ceremony for everyone from the surrounding villages is organised. The number of water bulls sacrificed is directly proportional to the importance of the deceased person. Sometimes more than thirty of them get sacrificed, which can be very expensive, so families raise loans that can impoverish them. The bull meat is divided to the villagers. The ceremony itself is very bloody and shocking for the Westerners.
Apart from that, the entire province is abundant in beautiful nature. The terraces rice fields, the peaceful and rural way of life, and the villages with many specific structures that look like high elevated boats. Many residents have moved in search of a job, but, as they all say, they send money to families and build houses and tombs. Like gastabajters everywhere in the world.
Toraja is ten hours away by bus or van from the airport in the capital of Sulawesi, Makasar. The road is very winding and narrow, at places in a very poor condition, which is why it takes about 10 hours to pass 300 kilometres.
Tana Toraja is the largest tourist attraction in Sulawesi, along with some more distant locations for swimming and diving. There are several hotels and houses with rooms for rent. Tourism is in its development phase, and the government of Indonesia has only just begun with its promotion with desire to create new tourist destinations apart from Bali. We slept in the original Tana Toraja Heritage hotel, which is supposedly the best in the region. It seems that most of the tourists we met on the excursions in the area sleep there.