We hired a guide for the day to show us around this quaint town called Tana Toraja, most famous for its odd shaped houses, resembling an extremely curvy boat. Our guide, Lempakar, was nice enough, and within ten minutes of meeting him, we knew all about his divorce with his Swiss wife, his dead mother, and his job as a turkey courier in Geneva. Bezzies.

The Torajan people’s houses were pretty impressive pieces of architecture, and we learnt a few facts about them too:

  • The front of the building always faces north, so the south always has the back facing it. The north represents life, and the south represents death. The dead are stored in the south part of the house before the funeral and are kept there as if still alive. They are fed, have their clothes changed, and even chatted to, under the pretence they are still alive. Funerals are very expensive here and are the biggest events in Toraja, so can take a long time to save up. Our guide knew a family who kept the body in the south part of the house for twelve years! Imagine if you’re a kid and your mum says, ‘Daniel, go and talk to Grandma,’ after the twelfth year since her death. I wouldn’t want to be Daniel.

  • The houses are shaped like boats because this region was first colonised by the Indo-Chinese, and the people in the arriving boats, who happened to be builders, only had experience constructing boats, hence the shape of the houses looking like the ships they arrived in.

  • There are 4 classes in Toraja. The bottom class are called slaves, a name they are still called to this day, which I’m sure they’re delighted with.

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Traditional Torajan Homes

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The more buffalo horns you have on your house, the wealthier you are, as buffalo are an expensive animal to sacrifice.

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This was an old one held up by bamboo.

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Inside one and standing next to the carvings in all the homes.

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Next stop was a baby grave, which was a big tree with lots of holes filled with unborn and new born babies wrapped in sheets. This eerie site was extremely important to them as it gave peace of mind that the tree was now protecting the babies, and sending them to puja (heaven). Additionally, the tree produces a white sap, which is supposed to represent mother’s milk , so effectively the mother is handing the baby over to mother nature.

Then we were taken to a few caves where there were graves everywhere. Hundreds of them all sticking out of the nooks and crannies of the mountainside. You could walk into the caves and be surrounded by bone, skulls, and offerings (cigarettes and bottles of water on and around the bones). Eerily, there were also puppets of the deceased to honour their life, like being surrounded by a weird puppet show from a horror movie. The oldest recorded coffin was 900 years old, but without any official records, who knows how old some of them could be. Some coffins were so rotted that the wood fell apart and the bones had fallen out, so there are simply remains piled up all over the place. This place loved the land of the dead!

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On our way to the caves

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The puppets in the graves

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Puds doing more learning, innit.

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It was skull overload. They seemed to run out of space to put the remains, so it was all kind of piled on top of each other.

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A huge family of puppets all chilling together.

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coffins stacked on coffins

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‘It was the smoke what killed him,’ our guide didn’t say to us.

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The inside of the cave didn’t get any less weird.

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After all this eerieness, I thought it would be wise to wear my eerie face.

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We made friends with Diana and the eccentric David (what a guy).

The next day we went to a traditional funeral near our homestay. We got there, and on the floor was a buffalo’s head, horns missing, and a few guys chopping up the meat and handing it out. There was blood everywhere, and some squealing pigs who you had a sense knew what was coming to them. In the meantime, everyone was enjoying a cup of tea and cakes amongst the massacre, it was pretty brutal. We learnt that sacrificing a buffalo is the done thing here, and the more buffalo you sacrifice, the more you are honouring the dead. This is an expensive affair, as buffalo are prized possessions. The real catch are the albino buffaloes which are extremely rare, and they can fetch $120,000. Where they get the money to buy an albino buffalo, and just to kill it, I have no idea. It was pretty mind blowing. When the dogs arrived and started eating the buffalo scraps around what was left of the carcass, and a man began mopping the blood off the floor with his hands, we thought it a good time to leave.

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The funeral ceremony after the sacrifice.

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A pig ready for sacrifice.

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The sacrificed buffalo.

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The tea and snacks people had amongst the massacre. Nice.

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The rare and very valuable albino buffalo.

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We climbed to the high point in the city.

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We ate food like humans do.

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A man washing his cock. Hehe.

Another eight hour bus ride back to Makassar and then a four hour bus ride to Bira was the next port of call. After repeatedly being harassed by ‘taxi drivers’ (men with cars), we got the bus we needed and were in a beautiful part of the world. The beach was stunning and our guesthouse was a flight of stairs to the sand. It was a blissful end to a crazy country with a poor infrastructure which could, at times, be frustrating. Indonesia was a mixed bag. The highlights were certainly Yogjakarta, Toraja, and Bira, while any of the cities or parts of the country with a road containing four or more lanes would be avoided if we returned. It was an eye-opening country where tourists are a walking $ sign, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it doesn’t bother you, but perhaps we were just not prepared enough. Oh, if a guy from Bali tells you he’s been to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, tell him it’s not in the south. He needs to improve his lies.

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The hammock outside our room.

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She’s such a card.

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The place had a lot of rescued animals.

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Our beach.

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Steps down to the beach.

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Doing words in paradise.

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