There’s a party and everyone is welcome
9 July 2015
(Contains graphic content)
“There’s a party, and everyone is welcome.” That’s the literal translation of Tondok Toraya. Often called Tanah Toraja, and evocatively described as “The Land of Kings,” locals are quick to point out that ever since the land was divided into two (North Toraja and Tana Toraja), it is more accurate to view the whole region as Tondok Toraya; the land of humble, welcoming men.
And indeed, here I have seen nothing but smiles. This is simply one large community, where work is rooted in respect. Life is seen as a long preparation for death, which surrounds the Torajans in the sense of a cycle, and not a haunting.
The Torajans live by three cardinal rules known as Tallulolona. Firstly, they don‘t place a body under the ground, because the land is a mother figure, and deserves respect. Secondly, their tongkonans (houses) all have iconic buffalo-shaped horns on their roofs, because animals are venerated as providers of food and are also a transport to paradise. And finally, respect for human life.
I took the overnight bus from Makassar with Mega Permai Tours, although one could fly directly to Toraya from Makassar on Susi Air (three flights weekly, Indonesian Rupiah 775,000). A day bus is also an option, though you’re pretty much on the road for the better part of eight hours.
WHERE TO STAY
I was the guest of the Toraja Misiliana Hotel for two nights, but they allowed me to check in early and check out late (9am and 9pm!) to coincide with the night bus to Makassar.
The hotel is family-run, started in the 1970s but upgraded in the 1980s. The hotel sits on land that stretches eight hectares, and everything is huge, from the 101 rooms to the function room (with a capacity of 2,000 people), two swimming pools, and even a sprawling, if simply furnished Presidential Suite that once housed the Indonesian President. Room rates start from IDR900,000 and go up to IDR1.5 million for the Presidential Suite.
The overwhelming feeling is one of being at home, albeit in a large, almost ranch-like area, with lovingly manicured gardens and no real boundaries. I nearly walked into a padi field without realising it and the hotel opens up into a little village beyond. Centrally located, its a 10-minute drive from bustling Rantepao, the main town, and offers buffet breakfasts and dinner. Dinner, especially, is most welcome, particularly after a long day of sightseeing.
The hotel also has a quaint guesthouse in Makassar, allowing passengers to rest for a few hours before they catch their flight back.
WHEN TO GO
July and December seems to be the best time to catch the numerous funeral ceremonies that Toraya is famed for. It also coincides with school holidays, and thus allows relatives to make the long trek back from wherever else in the country they are. July is also good for catching the padi just before they turn yellow and are harvested.
However, there is no fixed schedule for a funeral ceremony and local guides always have their noses to the ground to sniff one out.
I witnessed a buffalo slaughtering ceremony as part of a funeral in Kapolang in Southwest Tana Toraja. This was for a man who had been dead for six months. It is normal practice to for Torajans to keep their dead for various reasons including the fact that it can take that long to make ready the extensive funeral preparations.
WHERE TO GO
I had a wonderful guide, Lisa Soba Palloan, who is descended from nobility. He says, if you cannot name your ancestors for seven generations, your status will be questioned. He rattled them all off with ease.
We went to a wide range of places in two days, including the bulo (market) in Rantepao, Ke‘te Kesu, which has well preserved graves from a variety of generations as well as requisite touristy shops and Suaya, to see tau-tau (effigies) of the royal family. Some are more than 400 years old. There was also Tampang Allo for a natural cave burial site and Batu Tumanga for superb vistas of padi.
As a bonus, Lisa stopped at a house where the most expensive buffalo in Toraya lived; valued at IDR1.5 billion, it was worth more than a Ferrari! While not as fast, this fellow is especially prized for his fair skin, his spotted coat and an abundance of palisu (whorls). Apparently this buffalo has 24, the number of perfection for the Torajans. The spotted coat is a recessive gene, so it really is the luck of the draw.
Along the way, we stopped innumerable times as landscapes presented themselves like unmitigated postcards. All of Toraya is picturesque; unique and graced with a sense of peace.
Guide: Lisa Soba Palloan
Mobile: +61 82192053014
Toraja Misiliana Hotel
Address: 27, Jalan Pongtiku, Rantepao, 91835
Text and photos: Marc