Introducing Tana Toraja
A trip to Tana Toraja is like a cultural documentary brought to life. Sweeping and elaborately painted houses with boat-shaped roofs dot terraced rice paddies where farmers work the fields alongside their doe-eyed buffalo. It’s an island hemmed in by mountains on all sides and rich with traditional culture. Life for the Toraja revolves around death, and their days are spent earning the money to send away their dead properly. Funeral ceremonies bring together families who may have dispersed as far as Papua or even Australia. Buffalo and pigs are sacrificed, there is a slew of traditional dances and enough food and drink for everyone who can make it to the party. High-class Toraja are entombed in cave graves or hanging graves in the steep cliffs, which are guarded over by tau tau (life-sized wooden effigies) carved in their image – you’ll find these eerie yet beautiful cliff cemeteries scattered throughout the region.
The biggest funerals are usually held in the dry-season months of July and August, but there are funerals (even big ones) year-round. During July and August the tourist numbers swell to uncomfortable proportions and prices soar. Outside these months, you’ll share this cool countryside with the locals and only a handful of foreign travellers. While most people consider attending a funeral a highlight, Tana Toraja also offers some great do-it-yourself trekking opportunities where you can explore the fresh and clean outdoors and meet some of the most hospitable people you’ll ever encounter.