Tana Toraja, the land of heavenly kings
As the world largest archipelagic state, Indonesia has approximately 17,508 islands. Among Indonesians, there is a saying that one’s lifetime wouldn’t be long enough to explore all parts of Indonesia.
The five largest islands in Indonesia are Sumatera, Kalimantan (Borneo), Java, Sulawesi (Celebes), and Papua. Since Bali has been acknowledged as the most popular tourist destination, other areas also developed their own charms to attract local and foreign tourist. After Bali and Java, the third most popular destination in Indonesia is Sulawesi.
Sulawesi Island consists of a great variety of people, culture, and natural wonders. It is an unspoiled paradise. Tana Toraja, which literally means "Torajaland," lies 328 kilometers north of Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi Province, in the central highlands of South Sulawesi. Torajans are renowned for their elaborate funeral rites, carved burial sites, traditional houses known as tongkonan, and colorful woodcarvings. When Tana Toraja was opened for the first time to the outside world in the 1970s, it became an icon for Indonesia’s tourism.
For Torajan, a funeral is the most important ceremony in their cycle of life. It is an important social event, usually attended by hundreds of people and lasting several days with festive atmosphere. The rites is based on a strong belief that the soul of the deceased that travel to the land of eternity, will need all the requisites of everyday life in the hereafter just like when he was in the world. Animal sacrifices are also made for the blissfulness of the deceased.
When noble families hold the funeral, the ceremony usually involves great fanfare. Buffaloes and pigs are sacrificed as an indication of status and as repayment for gifts received from visitors. This ceremony may take days, weeks or months after the actual death, and the deceased is referred to as a sick man until he is buried. After all festive ceremonies, the deceased is then finally buried either in a small cave, inside a hollow tree or even left exposed in a bamboo frame hanging from a cliff.
Religion and Social Organization
The majority of Torajans still follow an ancestral belief called "Aluktodolo" which governs all traditional ceremonies. The traditional house with massive peaked-roof is related to their belief that early settlers came by boats and transformed it into houses. The houses are beautifully decorated with carvings and geometric designs. The number of buffalo horns hanging in front of the house indicates the status and wealth of the owner. Although Christianity and Islam have made way into the land, the traditional rituals remain strong.
Toraja society is hierarchical, comprising of nobility, commoners and a lower class. The residents are only permitted to decor their house with the symbol and motif appropriate with their social status.
In former times, Toraja villages were located intentionally on top of hills to protect themselves from animals and rival tribes. The Dutch later introduced them to rice cultivation and eventually forced them to leave the hills and build their villages in the valleys.
This unique culture, the scenic beauty, cool climate and friendly people are the main reasons Toraja is now regaining their popularity as a tourist destination. Modernization may have impact their way of life, but it is amazing to find that they are still preserving traditional belief and ceremonies that has not changed much in the last 100 years. It is indeed one of the world's extraordinary cultural treasures.
Tana Toraja can be reached by land, air and sea. It only takes one hour flight from Bali to Makassar, and seven or eight hours drive by car or bus to reach Tana Toraja. The captivating scenery and beautiful landscape will make you forget the long hours of drive on the way there. Two flights are available per week connecting Tana Toraja and Makasar. Alternatively, you can take sea cruiser to reach Makassar harbor from all major cities in Indonesia.
(Source: toraja-info, wikitravel, others)