Sun, 02 Mar 2003

Uniqueness lures tourists to Toraja

The Jakarta Post, Makale, South Sulawesi

Despite its distance from any airport, Tana Toraja (Toraja land), remains the favorite tourist destination in South Sulawesi, and one of the most visited sites in the country.

Toraja is best known for its traditional Torajan houses, locally called tongkonan.

The houses are decorated with carvings of geometric designs with buffalo horns that indicate the status and wealth of the family.

The roofs of the houses rise at both ends like the bow and stern of a ship, and legend has it that this was the shape of the vessels that carried their ancestors here.

The most popular tongkonan houses are found in the traditional village of Sillanan, about 15 kilometers south of the Toraja regency capital of Makale. These houses belong to the aristocratic Ke'te Kesu family.

Another attraction in Tana Toraja is the animal market in Rantepao, where hundreds of animals, such as buffaloes and pigs, are traded. Rantepao is 20 kilometers north of Makale.

Buffaloes and pigs are important to Torajans, especially traditional Torajans who cling to the tradition of Aluk Todolo, for various traditional rituals.

The number of Torajans adhering to the Aluk Todolo tradition, however, keep decreasing and are estimated at around 5 percent of Toraja's 400,000 people.

The majority of Torajans have converted to Christianity. Nevertheless, many Torajan Christians still perform traditional rituals, especially in welcoming guests.

Aluk Todolo regulates Torajans' daily activities of how to build houses, cook meals, greet people of different ages and status and conduct rituals.

Among the many traditional ceremonies, the most prestigious is the funeral ceremony.

A funeral ceremony usually lasts about one week, with feasting, chanting and dancing continuing through the nights.

Traditional Torajans lay their dead to rest in tombs chiseled and carved in steep cliffs.

People access these tombs by climbing up bamboo ladders.

One of the most popular traditional graves is located in Lemo. Here, visitors see a balcony full of local wooden or bamboo statues called tau-tau, mixed up together in the steep coral stone museum in the open air.

Another famous grave is in Londa, where the grave is located inside a cave. Here visitors are greeted by a wide balcony filled with tau-tau at the entrance of the cave.

However, visitors need to rent a strong flashlight or kerosene lamp to go inside the cave. They are in abundance at the entrance of the cave, for Rp 10,000 (US1.10) each.

Coffins and bones are found scattered around the cave.

There are many more places of interest in Toraja. They include the baby cemetery in Sangalla, more Tongkonan houses in Marante and Palawa, the King of Suaya graveyard in Suaya, traditional rice barns in To'Barana S'dang and Nanggala, more tau-tau in Tondong, menhir stones in Batutumonga and Bori.

Most of these places are operated by private entities. The local administration has awarded 77 licenses to private and locally owned institutions to operate tourist attractions in Tana Toraja. However, 57 of the license holders have not yet started their operations.

To get around Toraja is not difficult as there are plenty of tour operators. To get to Toraja, however, visitors need overland transportation. The easiest route is through Makassar, the provincial capital of South Sulawesi, where the nearest airport from Toraja is located.

Nevertheless, the long trip from Makassar, usually taking about seven to eight hours overland from Makassar, offers a unique experience to holidaymakers, with spectacular views of the mountains, steep terraced slopes and tall bamboo forests.