[Words: Janice, Pics: Mark]
On Canada Day, we moved on from Gili and as we were leaving, we saw a couple bars with signs that said Happy Canada Day and advertised that they imported Molson and Canadian beer in for the occasion. Mark was tempted, but we had a flight to catch. We flew from the island of Lombok, back to Bali, to connect on to Sulawesi – our last island in Indonesia. We didn’t arrive in the town of Makassar until 9pm at night, which always spells trouble because all the local people know you are stuck with limited options, so we paid too much for a taxi and stayed at one of the worst guesthouses, which was next to what seemed to be a garage. So in addition to the crazy annoying roosters and dogs, there was also the sound of the garage door opening and closing and roaring motorcycles all night long. The next day, we found ourselves on yet another 12 hour bus ride on ridiculously bad roads to Rantepao, the base for tourists to explore the region of Tana Toraja, which is home of Toraja ethnic group people. By way of background (which I hope you find interesting, we certainly did), it’s been said that the people of Tana Toraja live to die, as they focus a lifetime of energy and savings on funerals for their loved ones.Funeral preparations there can cost a fortune, making Tana Toraja one of the most expensive places to die. Most of the people are Christian, but they mix many of their old cultural believes with Christianity. When someone in a family dies, that person is given a big funeral ceremony at their house which lasts up to several days. Bamboo structures are built, seating areas are made, and the homes literally turn into compounds to support visitors of the dead. Family and friends come, usually bearing gifts for the family, and are welcomed with tea, coffee and biscuits. Although cigarettes and food are common gifts, live pigs are also given as gifts and those are killed and grilled up in the back to feed all of the guests. The main event of the funeral ceremonies is the slaughtering of buffalo. The number of buffalo a family slaughters is an indication of their social status and how much money they have. At some small funerals, only a few buffalo are sacrificed, while at large ones, there can be up to 100 killed over the course of a few days. The reason that the buffalo sacrifice is so important is that the Toraja people believe the buffalo leads the deceased on to their afterlife. So right before the buffalo is killed, the body is turned to face south so when the buffalo dies, they can travel together to their next life. Once the buffalo sacrifices have occurred, the body is then ready to be buried. Buffalo in Indonesia are very expensive and it can sometimes take the family a long time to raise the money to throw a proper funeral. During that time, they embalm the body of the dead and keep it in the house until the funeral can happen, sometimes staying there for years until they can afford a proper send off. The traditional homes are called Tongkonansand are characterized by their boat-shaped roofs. The horns of every buffalo sacrificed in a funeral for one the family members are displayed at the front of the home as a sign of the family’s wealth and social status.
Because July and August is the quiet agricultural period, it is the peak season for funeral ceremonies. Our first day in the Tana Toraja was a Sunday, which was a day of rest following Christian practices, and so we took a nice 5 hour trek through the mountains and passed some gorgeous scenery with fields and fields of lush rice terraces. The children in the villages were friendly and fun, often playing with us and chasing us and only a few of them asking us for candy. On Monday, there was one funeral on, and although every tourist in town was in attendance, it was still good fortune for us that one was on at all while we were there. We bought a carton of premium cigarettes (for about $9 CAD) as our gift to the family of the deceased and as we expected, we were welcomed with tea and biscuits and invited to sit in one of the many newly built bamboo structures with all the other tourists. This was the first day of the funeral ceremony, so for most of the day, we watched the family welcome guests and accept the variety of gifts, most notably the live pigs tied up by their legs hanging from bamboo sticks. They pigs, screaming and crying (one of the most awful and sad sounds I’ve ever heard), were being taken to the back of the house and either being slaughtered for our lunch later that day or being marked for slaughtering for a later date. While we were waiting for the main event – the buffalo sacrifice – our guide shared some very interesting stories about the Toraja people (can’t remember most of them now) and chatted with other tourists.
Because this was the first day of the ceremony, only one buffalo would be sacrificed, and it would be on day 4 or 5 that the rest of the buffalo would be sacrificed. Because it is considered impolite to ask, our guide was only able to estimate that there would be around 30 buffalo sacrificed for this particular funeral later the week. Just before the sacrifice, all of us guests enjoyed our lunch of pork cooked with Torajan spices in bamboo shoots, using our hands and pretty much eating off of papers on the ground. It was tasty! Shortly after lunch, some brief announcements were made and this small black buffalo was tied up to this bamboo structure to be sacrificed. The cut to the buffalo’s neck was quite quick, but it seemed to be a while before the poor buffalo was actually dead and it was very difficult to watch, I closed my eyes at a few points. Most of the tourists left immediately after the sacrifice, but we stayed on and watched as the buffalo was butchered. Quite a few tourists were right up close taking video and pictures of the sacrifice and the butchering – not me. Some pieces were saved for later, some pieces were being stewed for dinner later that night and other pieces were given back to the guests as gifts. In fact, we rode back to town with a man taking home the two front buffalo feet with which he would make a soup. Our guide told us that one small ordinary black buffalo can cost approximately $3,500 – $4,000 CAD and a large high-grade buffalo (black and white with blue eyes) can cost approximately $14,000 – $23,000 CAD. We saw a couple of these high-grade buffalo in the village, and their blue eyes were quite shocking. For the most part though, there were small black buffalos everywhere around us, even at our guesthouse, so that my allergies were crazy and our towels and bed sheets even smelled like buffalo – gross. Accompanying the buffalo were huge populations of roosters and stray dogs of course, so again, sleeping in past 7am was not an option.
On our last day in the Tana Toraja region, our guide took us to a few sites including a stone grave, a cave grave, a baby grave and world-class Tongkonan houses. In the stone and cave graves, it was a little unsettling because there were literally thousands of bones and skulls around, as most of the coffins have been disturbed by thieves. Tau-Taus or wood carvings of the deceased would be prepared, in a position with their arms out (represents the request for offerings and to be carried to the heavens) and displayed on the front of the stone graves. Every ten years or so, the family members change the clothes on the Tau-Taus. Unfortunately, many of the old Tau-Taus have been stolen and have only recently been replaced. The baby grave was a tree with holes carved out in the trunk for the bodies and covered with twig doors. The stone, cave and baby graves date back to the 15thcentury, but our guide says are still in use today.
We also visited a local market, which had a live pig section… and there were rows and rows of crying pigs tied up by their legs and hung from bamboo sticks and some just thrown in sacks. There was also a corner where men were trading rosters for cock fighting, which is now illegal, but still very popular among Indonesian men.
This may sound all strange, but it was truly a unique and intriguing cultural experience. Although as tourists, we are welcome to the funerals, the purpose is not for tourists, which is rare to find when you travel. After the 12-hour bus ride returning back to Makassar, we spent one more night near the airport and flew out to the city of Manado the next day for our last stop in Indonesia – the Bunaken islands for more snorkeling and scuba-diving. At this point, we were able to count down our days in south east Asia on one hand, and that was scary and sad.
Fortunately, the Bunaken islands were only a 2 hour drive and boat ride away from the airport in the city of Manado. We only had a couple of days here so we did a couple of dives on our first day and spent our second day on a dolphin watching boat ride and snorkeling. Bunaken had the most spectacular and colourful coral and starfish we’ve seen, which we enjoyed while diving and snorkeling. The current was very strong, almost felt like a flowing river at times, so when we were diving and snorkeling, we were getting pushed around at times, and had to reverse our course because we just couldn’t complete against the currents. The currents were also unpredictable and would change direction every 5 minutes, so the conditions were a little difficult. Our favourite dive was a mud-dive, where we could really appreciate the beauty of macro sea life, from little seahorses and fish 1cm in length darting through small bouquets of coral. We had to be careful with our fins because the floor was all sediment and if we kicked too much, we would lose all our visibility. One of the highlights of our entire trip for me was our dolphin watching boat ride. I’m not exaggerating when I say there were hundreds of dolphins in the water around us – including spinner and bottlenose dolphins and possibly others. They were jumping (with serious air time according to Mark) and spinning (1080’s according to Mark) up out of the water and just generally playing and showing off. They also enjoyed swimming in the bow waves produced by our boat, so we usually had anywhere from a pair to a dozen dolphins swimming and jumping right in front of our boat. Quite the grand finale for the South East Asia portion of our trip!
Unfortunately, our last night in Manado before we flew out to Auckland the next morning, was about the worst ever… I know I’ve probably said that before, but this truly was the worst. It was a stifling 30 degrees in our room, there was no fan, there were no windows, there were cockroaches, killer mosquitoes, ants on our beds, and only a bucket and a tap and bucket for our shower and we were only able to sleep a couple of hours. Mark thinks that it was our last night was horribly equivalent to our very first night when we arrived in Phnom Penh, so it seems only fitting that our South East Asia tour was bookended by super ghetto $10 CAD accommodations.
We spent 32 days in Indonesia, but we felt that it wasn’t nearly enough time to really explore the country thoroughly. We had to skip a few spots that we really wanted to go to, it’s just too big and too difficult to travel, and although you can fly from spot to spot, that added to our budget too quickly. We really enjoyed Indonesia; it has so much to offer, so Mark definitely wants to go back someday. Anyways, because we booked budget flights with the local Indonesian carrier and then Jetstar, what should be an 8 hour flight to Auckland will actually take us about 24 hours because of transfers and layovers. I’m nervous about the winter weather that will be awaiting us in New Zealand. I know it’s probably nothing compared to the Canadian winters, but we’ve been in 30+ degree weather for the past four months, so it will be a shock to my system… and I don’t do too well in cold weather. Mark looks forward to the cool weather and snow… and he has had to deal with the hot weather for 4 months, so it seems only fair that tough it out in the cold for 1 month.