Land of Toraja, land of death

I first learned of Tana Toraja (trans: Toraja Land) in Indonesia around the end of 2013. I immediately knew that I had to pay a visit someday. Flash forward five years, and I finally make the dream come true.

The Toraja region is located in South Sulawesi Island. It’s famous for coffee, the unique traditional architecture, and it’s elaborate death ceremonies and rituals.

Inside a traditional house. This lady made all of these by hand for selling.

A local man I met in Toraja told me that the houses are traditionally shaped like boats because their ancestors came from Yunnan, China, on boats.

For most people, the biggest draw to Toraja is the elaborate funeral ceremonies and cave graves. People in Toraja typically mummify the dead and keep them in their houses until after the harvest season, when they hold large funerals. They ritually sacrifice pigs and buffalo, the latter of which can cost up to $30,000 USD apiece… and there may be dozens killed per funeral! Until the sacrifices, the deceased is considered to simply be resting, not dead yet. The resting person is displayed in a coffin on a raised platform, with a space below for the immediate family (below, with pig waiting to be sacrificed).

Son-in-law of the “resting” person next to his daughter on the left. Presumably other family members on the right.

View from the top

Aftermath of a sacrifice. The paved road leading towards the funeral ground was running red with blood.

People are often buried in caves after the funerals. The lower levels are reserved for poorer people, and the higher for the upper class. The caves are natural, and Torajans have been using them for hundreds of years.

Outside of a burial cave

Final resting “house” for the deceased, with transportation palanquin in the foreground.

People leave offerings for the deceased. Even though Indonesia is a Muslim country, the Torajans are Christian animists.

It’s also common (albeit expensive) to carve a wooden doll of the deceased so they can have a way to remain with the living.

Not everyone is buried in caves, though. Mausoleums are common as well (below).

Each of these holes contain a body.

Each stone monoliths represent a funeral held by this particular community during a particular period of time.

Bonus! I also saw the sunrise over a sea of clouds.

Double bonus! I also went to a wedding! I’m next to the groom, who is standing beside his new wife. Both of their previous spouses had passed away.

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