Whenever I heard about Sulawesi, there’s a place that usually emerge on my mind. Tana Toraja! It’s a place called as the land of heavenly kings. Lies around 320 km from Makassar, it’s one of many places that included as part of my travel list. Glad that finally the opportunity came to me!
Kete Kesu, the oldest burial place in Tana Toraja
The bus started to depart to Tana Toraja from Makassar about 9.30 pm. Even in the ticket, they mentioned bus will leave at 9 pm. They have to wait for another passengers and make sure that everyone appear before departed. There was 2 options for the bus ticket price, the one is IDR 140.000, an Air Suspension Type of Bus, while the other one cost around IDR 160.000 for the Scania type. When we asked what’s the different to the lady behind the ticket counter, she explained, it’s because the Scania type is an import bus. We were wondering how can the other bus is not imported too, all the bus in Indonesia definitely imported. So we decided to take the IDR 140.000 type, and the bus turned up to be so luxury than we imagined before.
Journey from Makassar to Tana Toraja (Rantepao) is around 320 km, with 10 hours on the road. I heard the road will be so up and down, bumpy and passing near to the cliff, plus it’s dark. I was a bit afraid before but so many people do the evening journey and survive, I may be another new one who will survive, so I challenge myself for this trip. On our way from Makassar to Rantepao, we were a bit unlucky for sitting under the radio speaker, because the driver innocently played the old Indonesian songs which really really old in a loud volume and made us can not sleep. My friend asked politely to the driver whether it’s ok for him to turn down the volume a bit. Great the driver understood but he still played the music, the only way for us to be able to sleep was to putting our own earphones and listen to our own music.
In Rantepao, we arrived around 6 am. The bus stop in the middle of somewhere, not in bus station, so we confused where we are at that moment. We tried to look for a place to stay because I can’t contact a friend that said previously she wanted to pick us up in the bus station. Rather than standing alone in the street, we tried to use the rickshaw and find out the cheap hotel. Actually, we planned to only do the day trip in Tana Toraja. We wanted to catch the evening bus to return to Makassar again, so we weren’t planning to book a hotel before. With the rickshaw, we tried to find the cheap hotel, but it turned to be fully booked when we check to Maria’s Hotel, as we read many people recommend that place in the internet. Fortunately my friend finally contacted me and she pick us up with her motorbike. After we met up, she suggest us to rent a motor bike which cost us IDR 100.000/day. My friend from Malaysia also arrived in the same day, so the 4 of us ready to going around Tana Toraja after we clean ourselves a bit in my friend’s house.
No doubt that Tana Toraja is a beautiful place. The surrounding area is filled with mountain and traditional houses of Toraja people. The weather also colder than in Makassar. We were lucky when we arrived the city, there is a celebration of death. Yes, you read it right, it’s a funeral celebration. There’s a saying in Toraja, “People in there, live to die. They usually work and earn money for preparing their own death celebration.”
There was a family that holding the Rambu Solo ritual. It’s a famous death celebration. Usually in Toraja, people can celebrate the funeral until few days and will slaughter the buffalo or pigs for the celebration. The amount of the buffalo and pigs are depending with someone’s statues. The higher, the more animals need to be slaughtered. It made me shock when I heard about the price of the buffalo. The rare albino buffalo can cost around 1 million rupiah (100.000 usd) per animal. That’s crazy! While I was there and see the blood everywhere, it makes me feel so nauseous. We arrived late so the formal celebration already finished, we only saw how the animals already cut into pieces. In general, the cost for this celebration can be more than hundred millions rupiah or maybe billions. Such a shocking culture!
Finished with the celebration, we continued our journey to Londa. It’s the most famous burial cave for the tourism object in Toraja. It is located in Sandan Uai Village , around 7 km from Rantepao. It is quite closed with the Rambu Solo ritual place that we visited before.
There was a guide that actually a cave keeper. A keeper should be one of the family of people who buried in the cave. He brought the light for us to rent. It cost IDR 25.000,- and you can asked him to join with you to come inside the cave. At least, it will make you feel safe since you are with the local. Since the first time I stepped into the burial place, I feel a thick mystical atmosphere, especially when I came into the cave. You can clearly see so many skulls and damage bones in the very old coffin. Some corpse just simply hanging on the trees or lied in the stone’s hole.
If you see the complete coffin, not yet broken, it means the corpse still new or just arrived not long time ago. Can you imagine you are standing side by side with dead bodies in eerie dark cave? It was really creepy experience, especially when I saw 2 skulls that lied together and the guide told us it was before a couple who has forbidden love and they went on suicide together. Brrr…
The weird thing you will see near the coffin is how many cigarettes and coins surrounding the skulls. For Toraja people who actually most of them are Christian but still hold the ancient belief, they believe that death is a new beginning of another life, but not the heaven or hell, it called “life-after-a life in the world”, that’s why they slaughter the animals, it’s for people who died to ride and coins for them to buy something while cigarette is for their pleasure. I know I know, it’s sound so quirky, but there’s no strange limitations in one’s culture, cause they choose to believe what they do believe. That’s why culture is so amazing to be learned and see.
The couple skulls who died suicide because of their forbidden love
Kete Kesu is the oldest and vast burial place in Sanggalangi district. It has been said the village never changed since the last 400 years. First impression of the district was the complex of Tongkonan. Tongkonan is the traditional ancestral house and have boat-shaped with colorful patterns on the wall, while in front of the house hanging so many buffalo horns which actually give an sharp identity about the owner of Tongkonan. The more hanging buffalo horns the higher of the statues of person who ever lived in that Tongkonan.
Walking further more, we can find another burial cave which actually kind of similar with one in Londa. Only on our way to the cave, we passed a huge yellow stone that actually another burial place. Toraja people really respect their ancestor, to remember their ancestor, they make the miniature of the dead people. Sometimes when I was there and see the dolls, I did feel they look so real and able to see me in my eyes. The amazing thing about all this burial places, the local people still keep it that way, so their generations can keep the same ritual and people all over the world can see it for real.
Now we were in the middle of stones as the witness of megalithic era. The area called as Bori’ Parinding, the combination of ceremonial grounds and burials. To come inside we need to pay IDR 20.000 (usd 2)/person. It is located in the middle of stunning rice paddies. It’s an open space area for ritual both the dead festival and thanksgiving. More than a hundred megaliths still stand on the ceremonial ground which made me think how many people needed before to bring those stones and make it stand firmly as how they are standing right now. Each stone representing a past high status of a person. There are also stone chambers for dead people and five Tongkonan spread around the area.
Actually the surrounding area was so peaceful and quiet, we were the only living human in the area which trying to take a short solitude and sitting between all those megalith stones and old corpse. Some of my friends tried to contemplate their idea about life and death, and the rest just simply take a rest after a tired day which made us going here and there in quick time.
For sure, it was a full day trip to visit the death and back to the old times. We think it was enough for us to see the death. Now we were so tired and better to prepare ourselves to catch for another bus to Makassar.
Farewell Tana Toraja, until we meet again.