Throughout Toraja there are many sites where you can see graves carved into rocks. The Torajan people believe that people can take valued possessions with them to the afterlife. This is why you may find photographs, hats, items of clothing, food and water outside the grave entrance. Most of the graves are still hand carved, so may take several months. One such site is at Lembang Tonga Riu, on the roan to Batutumonga. You will see items and cloth and what appears to be rubbish on the ground in front of the graves. It is taboo to touch fallen items, so these are left there until cleaned up by family members of the deceased.
The Torajan funeral service is a massive affair. It is so big that temproary shelters need to be built to accommodate all the 'mourners'. When you arrive, you present the host with a gift - for close family members and friends this will be a buffalo or pig. For others such as tourists, it may be a carton of cigarettes. People are told which shelter they are to sit in - depending on status ad how close they are to the family. Important people are presented to the family of the deceased in a large elaborately decorated shelter. Throughout the service you might see men 'singing' the biography of the deceased, beautifully dressed women chanting, hordes of helpers serving tea, coffee and food to guests. And of course, there are the sacrifices. Slaughtering of buffalo in full view of the guests! I have been lucky enough to attend two funerals during my visits to Toraja. They are experiences I will never forget.
Perched on a hill is a cliff face weather beaten by the elements, grave yard of the royalty. Here Torajan kings and their family have been buried. The sheer cliff face is home to rows of impressive 'tau tau'. Most are now grey-white due to facing the weather. But one stands out, color remains on the effigy representing the king. The importance of the site is clear, as a glass case has been built which holds the remains of coffins that have fallen from the heights.
Batutumonga is about 20 km north of Rantepeo. On my first trip I had done a bit of cross country hiking before reaching the final steep ascent to Batutumonga restaurant. The restaurant is a great place to stop for a cold drink and lunch. But most impressive are the views from the open air eating area. On clear days you can see right down the Sa'dan valley to Rantepeo. Perhaps due to the relatively cooler air, the restaurant is also home to some very large and very colorful moths, amongst other insects. Food is cheap and views are worth the walk.
Palawa is a village with rows of Tongkonan and rice barns in traditional Torajan style. Outside some of the Tongkonan are columns of buffalo horns - the larger the stack, the more prestigious the family is. When I was in Palawa I was taken into a Tongkonan that had a dead body lying at one end. The young boy who was showing us around said 'Not dead, just sick'. According to tradition, a person is not dead until they are buried, so they are wrapped and left in the house. They are 'fed' every day until the funeral. As funerals must be held on an auspicious date, and because families often have to save for the funeral, a dead body could be in a house for more than 6 months.
Lemo is probably the most photographed rock-grave site and the locals quite rightly try to cash in on tourists - there are a large number of stalls selling T-shirts and 'traditional' Torajan 'made-for-tourists' items. Having said that, it is well worth a visit. The best time to go is early morning so the sunlight is coming form the right direction for good photographs. I have been twice - the second time some work was being done - a new grave being carved. Our guide informed us that while the carving was a job for the lower class, carving at this site was seen as being prestigious. Most interesting was the bamboo ladders - safety perhaps doesn't have the same priority. After ogling at the cliff face for a while - complete with tau tau that have their palms raised to heaven 'I have nothing left and am ready for God', it is possible to walk around the side of the cliff to see some more rock graves, and fallen and hanging coffins. If you are lucky you will see a few little huts where men are carving tau tau. It is difficult to dodge the shopkeepers on the way back - but having learnt so much about Torajan traditions from our guide, I decided I could do with a Toraja t-shirt anyway. A highly recommended place to visit.
Ke'te Kesu village is 5km south east of Rantepeo. There are bemo that travel up and down the road or see it as part of a healthy afternoon walk - take water. From the road itself, the village is picturesque seen across lush fields. There are traditional tongkonan and rice barns. The village is known for its wood carving. You can watch the men at work. There is also a small shop where you can buy some handicrafts and cool drinks. We picked up some good quality Torajan fabric. Behind the village is a cliff from which coffins hang. Some have fallen to the ground and bones lie scattered around.
In Londa there is a massive cliff face concealing the entrance to a warren of caves. As you get closer to the base of the cliff - taking care on the slippery steps - you will notice rows of 'tau tau' seemingly guarding the entrance to the caves. You need a torch to see inside the caves, but better still is to pay one of the local boys who will provide a kerosene lattern and guide you through. Good guides are invaluable here as some paths in the cave are slippery and the walls narrow in places. Oh, and watch your head! Inside the cave are scattered bones and rows of skulls. There is the Torajan story of Romeo and Juliet to be heard - intertwined skeletons lying on the ground. The caves aren't for the faint hearted as the skulls appear quite ghoulish in the light of the kerosene lamps and the confined space of the caves.
The main market in Rantepeo, Pasar Bolu, is held every six days - regardless of the day being any particular occassion - it could fall on Christmas Day. The market is a mad mixture of animals, food and small goods. Here the locals can bargain for pigs or buffalo to be used as gifts/sacrifices at a funeral. The expensive buffalo are the albinos - provided they have at least one small marking of black. These can sell for more than 50 million rupiah. Continually having to duck my head in the undercover area, I came across a tobacconist holding court. He offered me a sample of Torajan tobacco. In return, I rolled him a cigarette made from the Drum tobacco I still had with me from Australia. He was quite impressed and I ended up sharing the last of my Aussie tobacco with the local men. It is an easy walk from central Rantepeo to the market or you can catch a bemo.
In Bori, north of Rantepeo there is a well kept ceremonial ground with some impressive megaliths, a slightly different form of burial to the traditional 'grave in the rock'. These huge stones also signify the place of a burial so, 'grave under a rock'. Some of the stones have been moved from other sites for safe-keeping, but there is a clear feeling that the area is sacred. The ceremonial ground is still used for funerals and by village heads for meetings.
About 6 km. from Rantepao you find the very extensive burial natural LONDA cave at the base of a massive cliff face, with interconnecting passages and impressive entrances. The entrance to the cave is guarded by a balcony of TAU-TAU. You can watch the TAU-TAU from a close distance. Make your entrance led by lovely kids who enjoy to volunteer as guide for taking orang turis (you, and me!) into the ghastly cave.
A local myth says that the people buried in the LONDA caves are the descendants of Tangdilinoq, chief of the Toraja at the time when they were pushed out of the Enrekang region by new arrivals and forced to move into the highlands...
About 6 km. East of Rantepao, located just off the road to Palopo, you can visit Marante. This very fine traditional village is a mixture of Torajan dwellings and wooden houses, with some coffins and TAU-TAU. See the "kepala desa", head of the village, and pay respect.
There are stone and hanging graves, with amazing TAU-TAU, skulls on the coffins and a cave with scattered bones. Actually it's not that scary and people, or your guide, could tell very interesting stories ...
From Marante you can cross the river on the suspension bridge and walk to the village of Ba'ta, which is set in attractive rice-paddy country.
The Toraja people do have traditional beliefs and customs. So there are all kind of ceremonies and the most important is the one where someone who had died, is sent to the "beyond". That ceremonial ritual has to be done in the very right way, otherwise its spirits will send misfortune to earth and its family ...
The Toraja people started to hide their dead in caves because of grave plundering, and hew niches out of rocks faces. These caves were hollowed out by specialist cave builders who were tradional paid in buffaloes ... so the rich got the best caves, and the poor had to collect money for sometimes years.
Very very impressive! See the TAU-TAU with their wide-open white eyes, ... one hand for asking and, one for giving, blessing ... those Tau-Tau made me dreaming away into ancient times.
Ketekesu is another traditional village lying southeat of Rantepao. Beautiful rice fields, green hills, palm trees surround this picturesque village with the typican torajan houses
There we aslo visited hanging graves and we had the chance to see how funeral coffins are made
Graves can be also solid constructions rather modern in their appearance, but a rather older practice for the poorer was to leave the coffin in a cave
The surrounding ladnscape is marvellous in the rice fields