Aug 18, 2011

Tana Toraja

Religion plays a central role in nearly every culture and society that Amanda and I have visited over the years. Indonesia is well-known as having the largest population of Muslims in the world. However, in the two weeks that we have been here, their presence has been hardly noticeable.

The Toraja region of Central Sulawesi was once steeped in an ancient religion based on animism. Sacrificial offerings and complex rituals demanded their time, attention, and money. The Christians have since converted most of the people, sort of. Fortunately for us tourists that are thirsty for rare and unique cultures, the people have continued to practice their complex funeral rituals and live in their symbolic boat-shaped houses just as they have for hundreds of years.

Funerals last for five days and are attended by nearly the entire village. Gifts are exchanged, prayers are said and processions performed. What makes these funerals truly interesting are the ritualistic slaughtering of dozens of buffalo and hundreds of pigs.

The most sacred of buffalo, the albino with black spots, goes for well over $20,000. The richest families will kill over one hundred buffalo at each funeral. The funerals are such an expensive party that they often will not occur for months or years after death while the family raises money and makes the preparations for the party.

The people are undoubtedly Christian. They attend church on Sunday and name their children Abraham, Christian, and Mary. Yet, they have managed to keep a strong grasp on their past by continuing to hold these elaborate funeral ceremonies. Never before have two sides of the religious spectrum found such a harmonious place to coexist.

Then there are the houses. They are intentionally shaped like boats because their ancestors came by boat to Sulawesi. Each aspect of the house has ancient meaning and purpose. We saw old and new some grand, some quite small.

Amanda and I hired a guide for a two day trek across the rice fields and over the mountains from village to village. We attended a funeral ceremony, drank some homemade palm wine, lost some money at a cock fight, watched the farmers harvesting rice, celebrated independence from the Dutch, saw some hanging graves with wooden carvings of the dead, and experienced the pleasant life of central Sulawesi. We even spent the night in one of the fantastic houses.

The people of Sulawesi are some of the friendliest on earth. If only they could find a way to export their smiles and kindness, they would forever be wealthy. We were honored by the opportunity to spend time here. Thank you Sulawesi for all of your love.

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