After we woke up we grabbed some food in the lobby of our hotel (Hotel Pison…we recommend it. Cheap, clean and hot showers!) and right away were joined by a guide looking to see if we wanted to go see a funeral ceremony. We definitely did but we wanted to first make sure our guide could speak English and that he actually knew what he was talking about. We spent some time talking with this guy and were pretty much decided we would hire him for the next day. And then he started rubbing some cooking oil on his face and neck and explained to us this is his magic oil. He said it cures everything but you have to believe. If you don’t believe it won’t work. That pretty much made up our minds not to hire him for the next day, even though he wanted to include a free bottle of his magic oil in his price. Looking back, the fact that he was wearing a Domino’s Pizza shirt should have tipped us off he might not be the best guide to go with. Later that afternoon, we went out to get some dinner and met another guide (they all hang around restaurants and prey on tourists). His name was Rudy and he seemed like a nice guy so we decided to hire him for the following day.
We met him the next morning, and after renting some motor bikes we were off. The village we were going to was approximately 25km from Rantepao. Before we arrived we purchased a carton of cigarettes to offer to the family as a gift. The ceremonies last anywhere between 3-7 days, all depending on the class of the person who has passed away. Before we went there we asked Rudy if it was okay with the family that we attend, but he assured us, the funeral is much bigger part of people’s lives in Tana Toraja than the wedding, and the more people that attend the funeral, the better it looked on the person who had passed. Basically, the more the merrier. We arrived on day 3 of the funeral, and this would be the last day. The funerals are really elaborate where temporary shelters and even homes are built to accommodate all the people that will be attending the funeral. The Torajas spend their lives working to pay for the funerals of their loved ones. When a person dies, they are not buried right away, as the family first needs to hold the proper ceremony for them. Ceremonies however are so expensive the families first must save up for them. Usually it takes 3 -4 months after the person dies before the ceremony is held and the person is buried. Until then, the deceased is kept in a small traditional tangkonan home, where the immediate family is required to visit and talk with them every day until they are buried. When we arrived, there were a lot of people just hanging around and we were the only tourists. At first it was a little intimidating and it felt very voyeuristic being able to get a peek into their lives. But Rudy led us into the heart of the site where pigs were being roasted on an open fire. Coming in we had seen the blood on the ground from when the pigs were sacrificed. But they weren’t roasting the pigs to cook them now, just to burn all the hair off of them. The pigs that had not made it into the fire yet were being cut open to remove their guts. It was a little gory but at least they were dead.
Rudy explained to us each family has a level of “class”. There are 3 different classes: lower, middle, higher. It’s a very complicated system but essentially you belong to the class you are born into and no matter how much money you go on to make, you will always belong to that class. This is not a system to distinguish the rich from the poor, but a system that has been established many generations ago. Part of the ceremony is to sacrifice animals to help the soul pass into the afterlife. The preference is to sacrifice water buffalo however they are very expensive and can cost up to $30,000 for 1! And to give you an idea of how expensive the ceremonies can get, when a person from the higher class dies, up to 200 water buffalo can be sacrificed. You do the math. But when it’s a person from the lower or middle class, there is a limit to how many buffalos they can sacrifice. Even if they had the money to sacrifice more, they have to stick to their number. I can’t remember the numbers exactly, but the important thing is the family doesn’t need to meet those numbers, but it wants to. The more buffalo they sacrifice, the better the chances for the deceased to pass on to the afterlife. But other animals can also be sacrificed, such as pigs. The ceremony we were attending had sacrificed all the pigs the day before, all 20 of them. On the last day, the day we were there, they would be sacrificing the water buffalo.
Just then Rudy called us over to take our places to watch the water buffalo sacrifices. It was something I didn’t want to watch, and for the most part kept my head turned away. They brought the first buffalo (a female…not their first pick…they prefer the bulls to the females) and tied her leg to a stake in the ground. She was quite calm. And then with a very swift move of his hand, a guy (especially selected for this…it can’t be just anyone) slit the buffalo’s throat. Everyone cheered lightly, but for me it was a very disturbing sight. I had just witnessed with my own eyes a helpless animal being slaughtered…sorry, sacrificed. Thank God I turned around because apparently when he slit her throat a whole bunch of blood sprayed out. The poor buffalo staggered around and after a minute or so fell to the ground, and everyone cheered happily! But this was not the end of the buffalo’s suffering. She was lying fully alert while bleeding out with her blood all over the place. Her eyes were wildly looking around and she was trying to breathe, which of course she couldn’t because her throat had been cut. It was a very disturbing sight and I really didn’t want to be there. I know this is the tradition but it seemed really unnecessary. Then the other buffalo was brought (a male this time) and the whole process started again. He was fully aware something was going on (I’m sure he could smell the blood) and he didn’t want to be tied so easily. Again his throat was cut, people cheered and I wanted to vomit. Then the 3rd male buffalo was brought and again the process started again. This time when he fell, the female buffalo, the first one that was sacrificed raised her head fighting. It seemed she hadn’t died yet. Overall it was very disturbing to watch. I think there must be a faster way to kill these animals because it takes them ages to die this way.
Luckily there would only be 3 buffalo sacrifices and we were ushered into one of the shelters for the body of the deceased to be brought out. Andrew went to take some pictures but he returned quickly and said he couldn’t take pictures because his hands were shaking. The buffalo sacrifices had taken their toll on him too and I’m glad, because he was very keen to go and see them. At least now I knew he had a heart. Later he told me 3 buffalo sacrifices were enough. Some people pride themselves on the amount of animals they had seen sacrificed at a ceremony but for me those 3 had been more than enough.
The tradition for this village was the body of the deceased was to be taken to her burial spot after the animals had been sacrificed. Other villages will sacrifice the animals, cook and eat them and then bury the deceased. The body was brought out wrapped and covered in various cloths, and the immediate female members began to wail. It was hard to watch, but more so because this person had been dead for over 4 months. It felt like the grieving process had been unnecessarily dragged out just to have this elaborate ceremony. After the priest said a few prayers (the family were protestant) the body was taken to the burial site in the caves 2km’s away. We could have gone with them but Rudy said there was no need and to stick around. Then we found some members of the family and offered them our gift of cigarettes and they offered us tea and homemade sweets. They didn’t speak English but with Rudy acting as translator we sat around on the floor of the shelter and chatted with them for a while. After an hour they offered us some food. They brought out pieces of the sacrificed pork which had been cooked in bamboo over an open fire, some spicy fish and fresh rice. The food was delicious. The meat was tender and the fish was spicy but the flavour was really nice. We sat with the family chatting and eating for a couple of hours and then it was time for us to go. We were so happy we hadn’t gone on a group tour and that it was just us and the guide. A group of 20 tourists had come just for the buffalo sacrifice, but because they were in such a large group and had left right afterwards, they completely missed the opportunity to sit and chat with the family. I can’t remember what we talked about, but I do remember having a great time. Rudy taught us some words in Torajan (different from Bahasa Indonesian) and the family loved it! Overall the sitting and eating with the family was the best part of the day.
Rudy then took us to a burial site in the caves of the mountains but since we had seen that the last time we had been there, we went home afterwards and spent the day bumming around Rantepao. We spent the remaining few days sleeping and relaxing around Rantepao. One day we went to the market that is held once a week. There you can buy literally anything. From clothes to coffee to house cleaning products to fruits & veggies to Buffalos and pigs. We came across the Buffalo part of the market and it was crazy, there were literally thousands of people trying to sell their buffalos and another thousand walking around. But these buffalo’s were not kept in any cages. We had to squeeze between buffalos just to get around. It was definitely different. It seemed everyone from Rantepao and the neighboring villages was there. I guess that is the place where all the local ladies do their weekly shopping. We had rented a motorbike that day and went to see the city of Makale, near Rantepao, but there was not much to see so we just came back. That night we met a Polish guy who was travelling around Indonesia and ended up having dinner with him. The next day it was time for us to check out but our bus back to Makassar wasn’t until 9pm, so the hotel owner let us stay as long as we wanted. Actually Andrew and the hotel owner now email back and forth all the time. They were a really nice family. We had a late dinner with the Polish guy again and said goodbye to him when it was time for us to catch our bus. Our bus left late but we arrived at the airport in Makassar at 4am. Our flight was at 5:30pm and we had a lot of time to kill. The airport was small but we managed to find some internet, and we also used up the last of our credit on our SIM card to call our families in Canada. Then it was time to leave. We were flying back to Kuala Lumpur.