Friday, May 15, 2009


Early in 2001, John (a good friend of mine) and I travelled to the Indonesian province of Sulawesi.  Below are a few scanned photographs of that trip.


Tana Toraja is a central region of Sulawesi.  The region is famed for its traditional villages, unique architecture and fascinating culture.


This family offered John and I shelter during a tropical downpour.



The Tana Torajan Funeral

Tomate (funeral) literally means dead person, and of all Torajan ceremonies the most important are those concerned with sending a dead person to the afterworld.  Without proper funeral rites the spirit of the deceased will cause misfortune to its family.  The funeral sacrifices, ceremonies and feasts also impress the gods with the importance of the deceased, so that the spirit can intercede effectively on behalf of living relatives.

Sons and daughters of the deceased have an equal chance to inherit their parents' property, but their share depends on the number of buffaloes they slaughter at the funeral feast.  The buffalo has traditionally been a symbol of wealth and power - even land could be paid for in buffaloes.  The more important the deceased, the more buffaloes must, be sacrificed: one for a commoner, four, eight, 12 or 24 as you move up the social scale.  The age and status of the deceased determines the number of animals slaughtered.  Large ceremonies, where more than 100 buffaloes are slaughtered, are spoken of with awe for- years afterwards.  The type of buffalo is also significant - the most prized is the tedong bonga (spotted buffalo), which may cost many millions of rupiah per head.


These kids had a front row seat.


Baby Graves

Babies that died during child-birth or at a young age are buried in small compartments carved in trees.  Overtime the compartments gradually close entombing the baby.  A specific tree is selected for this purpose because the sap has the same appearance as milk.


The Graves of Lemo

According to local legend, these graves are for the descendants of a Torajan chief that reigned over the region hundreds of years ago.


A buffalo cools off in a mad pool.


The Londa Burial Caves (6km south of Rantepao)

The Toraja believe that you can take possessions with you in the afterlife, and the dead generally go well equipped to their graves.  Since this led to grave plundering, the Toraja started to hide their dead in caves or hew niches out of rock faces.

These caves were hollowed out by specialist cave builders who were traditionally paid in buffaloes, and since the building of a cave would cost several buffaloes, only the rich could afford it.  Although the exterior of the cave grave looks small, the interior is large enough to entomb an entire family.  The coffins go deep inside the caves, and sitting in balconies on the rock face in front of the caves are the tau tau - life-size, carved wooden effigies of the dead.

Tau tau are carved only for the upper classes; their expense alone rules out their use for poor people.  Traditionally, the statues only showed the gender of the person, not the likeness, but now they attempt to imitate the likeness of the person's face.  The making of tau tau appears to have been a recent innovation, possibly originating in the late 19th century.  The type of wood used reflects the status and wealth of the deceased; nangka (jackfruit) wood is the most expensive.  After the deceased has been entombed and the tau tau placed in front of the grave, offerings are placed in the palm of the tau tau.  You can see the carvers at work at Londa.

If there are no rocky outcrops or cliff faces to carve a niche in, wooden house graves are created, in which the coffin is placed.  Most of the hanging graves, where the wooden coffins are hung from high cliffs, have rotted away.  Sometimes the coffins may be placed at the foot of a mountain.  Babies who have died before teething are placed in hollowed-out sections of living trees.  Examples of these graves can be seen at Pana.

Most tau tau seem to be in a permanent state of disrepair, but in a ceremony after harvest time the bodies are re-wrapped in new material and the clothes of the tau tau replaced.  Occasionally left lying around the more obscure cave graves is a duba-duba, a platform in the shape of a traditional house which is used to carry the coffin and body of a nobleman to the grave.

There are many tau tau at Lemo and a few elsewhere, but it's becoming increasingly difficult to see tau tau in Tana Toraia.  So many have been stolen that the Toraja now keep many of them in their own homes.





Around Rantepao

Street scene and padi fields on the outskirts of Rantepao.




North Sulawesi is the most developed region on the island, and probably the most egalitarian in Indonesia; its people have a long history of trade and contact with the outside world.  With the Sangir-Talaud island group, North Sulawesi forms a natural bridge to the Philippines, providing a causeway for the movement of peoples and cultures, and as@& result the language and physical features related to the Philippines can be found amor4 the Minahasans.

The three largest distinct groups in the province are the Minahasans, Gorontalese and Sangirese, but there are many more dialects and subgroups.  The kingdoms of Bolaang Mongondow, sandwiched between Minahasa and Gorontalo were important political players too.

The Dutch have had a more enduring influence on this isolated northern peninsula than in the archipelago.  Dutch is still spoken among the older generation, well-to-do families often send their children to study in the Netherlands.

Below is a picture of the a mini-bus station. Manado had a serious rubbish problem, the stench from uncollected garbage was terrible.


Pulau Bunaken

Bunaken Island is north west of Manado in Northern Sulawesi.  Due to the lack of facilities on the island the diving resorts (collection of bungalows) offer full board and lodging.

Picture below is the suicidal boat that ferried locals and budget travelers between the island and the mainland. Safety was not an option.



For an anti-Chinese country Buddhist temple are fairly rare.  This one is located in Tomohon, not far from Manado. Tomohon is just a small town sitting on the door step of one big-ass active volcano called Gunung Lokon.


Small Fishing Village


The End of a Long Journey

John and I relaxing in Singapore at Raffles Hotel with a Singapore Sling or two.


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