TANA TORAJA, THE LAND WITH SPECTACULAR NATURE AND UNIQUELY CULTURE
Tana Toraja is safely protected beyond the lofty mountains and rugged granite cliffs of the central highlands of the island of Sulawesi and the home of the Toraja people. 'Discovered' and opened to the world from their long isolation only since the beginning of the last century, the Toraja today still adhere to their age-old beliefs, rituals and traditions, although many of her people are modernized or have embraced Christianity.
The nobility of Toraja are believed to be descendents of heavenly beings who came down by a heavenly stairway to live here on earth in this beautiful landscape. To keep up the energy of the land and its people, the Toraja people believe that these must be sustained through rituals that celebrate both life and death, which are attached to the agricultural seasons. Tourists to Toraja, therefore, are either attracted by its unique culture and rituals, most of which are mostly centered around graves and death ceremonies. While others prefer to avoid the morbid images and go trekking through the spectacular, almost untouched Toraja countryside visiting remote villages, or exhilarate in rafting the Sa'dan river rapids.
A Bemo, the local transport, is the best way to get to know the locals, besides chartering vehicles (minibuses or Jeeps) with or without driver. Enjoy walking around villages.
To get to Tana Toraja one must fly to Sultan Hasanuddin airport in Makassar, capital of the province of South Sulawesi. As a hub for East Indonesia there are many airlines flying to and from Makassar. The only way to Toraja from Makassar airport is overland. There are no flights between Makassar and Toraja.
There are also buses to Rantepao that leave Makassar daily. The journey takes around 8 hours and includes a meal stop. Tickets must be bought in town but coaches actually leave from DAYA bus terminal, 20 minutes out of town by bemo. Several companies in Rantepao run buses back to Makassar. The number of buses each day depends on the number of passengers. It is best and easiest to contact an experienced travel agent to arrange and take care of your full itinerary to the Toraja highlands.
With its vibrant tribal culture and stunning scenery the facinating region of Tana Toraja is rightly a mecca for travellers. Visually its allure is immediate, with villages of elaborately painted houses with boat-shaped roofs, and towering terraces of emerald green rice paddies, all of which is overseen by a protective necklace of jagged jungle-clad hills.
Culturally the Toraja, most of whom were animists until the early 20th century, are preoccupied with death. Though ancient ways are inevitably changing as this once-isolated region becomes better connected to the rest of the nation, profound (and very bloody) funeral ceremonies remain a vital part of Torajan tradition. Buffalo and pigs are sacrificed; there is a slew of traditional dances, and lashings of food and drink. High-class Toraja dead 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, at which time tourism numbers soar, but there are funerals year-round. Famous for their hospitality, the Torajans are a hospitable bunch and visitors are usually more than welcome to attend these ceremonies; however, a guide is near-essential to make the most of the experience.
While most people consider attending a funeral as a highlight of their visit, Tana Toraja also offers some great do-it-yourself trekking, cycling and motorbiking through its evergreen landscape of spellbinding beauty.