TANA TORAJA – SECRET HIGHLANDS AND CULTURAL RITUALS
Indonesia is an archipelago blessed with natural beauty and rich cultural traditions that go far beyond the most popular landing places of Bali, Java and Nusa Tenggara islands. Tana Toraja, located at the heart of South Sulawesi highlands, is one of these overlooked destinations.
Tana Toraja is renowned for its scenic landscapes. The region is surrounded by towering mountains, and serene waterfalls that can be explored along trekking routes and even on horseback. Between these sites, Batutumonga is a breathtaking area that offers one of the best viewpoints of the surrounding valleys and hills. Along with hiking, rafting the Sa’dan River rapids passing green rice fields, traditional villages, steep gorges and high Rocky Mountains is certainly not for beginners but is definitely an adventure of a lifetime.
Besides natural wonders, one of the main attractions of this beautiful region is the discovery of its unique indigenous culture focused the afterlife. Traditional funeral ceremonies, an essential part of the Torajan culture, are known for their elaborate and fascinating rituals based on holy dances and sacrifices of buffaloes, a sacred animal according to local beliefs. Vehicles that escort the departed into eternity, buffaloes are also considered as possessions indicating wealth and social status. Ordinary black buffaloes cost 20-70 million rupiah, but Tedong Saleko, black and white cattle with yellow horns, blue eyes and white legs can be priced between 200 million to well over a billion rupiah. Considering that more than 30 buffaloes might be sacrificed at burial ceremonies of traditional leaders, cost of high-ranking funerals can be skyrocketing.
Tanah Toraja traditional houses called Tongkonan, designed with their distinctive shape and structure, are another main feature of the local cultural heritage. Since the hamlet is more than 300 years old and classified as UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ke’te Kesu’ is probably the most appealing village to visit for experiencing Torajan funeral ceremonies and traditional architecture.
Londa Burial Cave and Lemo are unique funeral sites dating back to the 16th century where the deceased are buried inside caves carved into the walls of limestone cliffs. Some of the niches are tombs. Some others contain rows of spine-chilling Tau Tau statues dressed in colourful clothing. Bori Parinding, a megalithic site is another destination not to be missed. More than a hundred menhirs are there standing, as huge stone pillars celebrating noble ancestors. Contrasting with these rituals related to an original animist culture, Yesus Buntu Burake is a tribute to the Christianization of Tana Toraja. One of the largest Jesus Christ statues in the world besides the iconic Christ the Redeemer of Rio de Janeiro, this giant monument stands on the top of the Makale hill about 1,700 meters above sea level.
Experiencing the Torajan culture also means tasting local cuisine, known for its bold and spicy flavors. Traditional dishes like Pa’piong (grilled fish wrapped in banana leaves) or Tinutuan (porridge made with corn, vegetables and coconut milk) are some delicacies to enjoy when strolling around traditional villages. Savouring Torajan arabica coffee is another must, since the highlands plantations bear some of the tastiest beans in Indonesia.
“Visiting cultural festivals throughout the year is a privileged way to engage with the local population and its vibrant traditions. The tourism stakeholders from South Sulawesi are keen to provide information during BBTF 2023 event in June – related to the annual Tondok Toraya International Festival in August, September or the Rambu Solo funeral ceremony that lasts for several days as well as the Ma’badong marathon, a long-distance race that traverses picturesque countryside highlight the annual shows. These events are the momentum to visit our unique diversity culture” I Putu Winastra, the head committee of BBTF 2023 and the chairman of Travel Association (ASITA) Bali chapter commented – Inviting Travel planners to explore the secret highlands and ritual cultures for niche market.