Showing posts from July, 2010

Sulawesi Surprise: Looking beyond the Greenery

You'd probably like Tana Toraja if you like some quiet and greenery. At one point, when I was taking a stroll near the Prince Hotel, I saw lush crops growing along the roadside that I started to think that anything could grow here. It thus struck me as queer that the Dutch who had in the 17th century, established trade and political control on Sulawesi through the Dutch East Indies Company, ignored this mountainous area not just because acess was difficult but the land here is said to have little productive agricultural value. It was only in the late 19th century that the Dutch, being concerned about the spread of Islam, stood up and became interested in the people here. Before the 20th century therefore, the Torajans, being untouched by the outside world, live and practised animism in autonomous villages. The early Dutch missionaries did face strong opposition among Torajans. Afterall, they were running from the Muslims in the first place. Enroute to Tana Toraja, we had passed a …

Sulawesi Surprise!: Pigs Out!

If you think the three little pigs in James Orchard Halliwell-Phillips's Nursery Rhymes and Nursery Tales are a bit too many, wait till you walk the market in Tana Toraja. In one section of the market,there are so many pigs there that you would be forgiven for not wanting to have anything else to do with pigs after that - not to mention not wanting to eat them too! Besides water buffaloes, pigs are slaughtered during the elaborate death ritual. A machete would be used and I suppose there would be much blood and gore. Tourists can witness the ceremony at a ceremonial site, called rante, which is a large, grassy field with shelters for audiences, rice barns, and other ceremonial funeral structures. As it is the funeral ritual is rather expensive. It is a big event attended by thousands of people and could last for a few days. We were at Tana Toraja a few weeks too early, I think and missed this ritual. With the expected blood and gore, I think many of us would not mind missing it. F…

Sulawesi Surprise!: Toraja's Way

There was a mistletoe on the wall where we were having our breakfast in the Prince Hotel and a Christmas tree in the little shop near the market where some of us had coffee. It was around Christmas while we were in Sulawesi and seeing Christmas decorations in remote Tana Toraja should not be a surprise at all since it is largely a Christian society there. The colonial Dutch government had, in the 1920s, through the Reformed Missionary Aliance of the Ducth Reformed Church, carried out missionary works in Tana Toraja. Islam was spreading then in South Sulawesi among the Makassarese and Bugis and the alarmed colonial masters had seen the people in Tana Toraja who were practising polytheistic animism as potential Christians. The indigenous people had been practising what is known as aluk or theway and today, in the predominantly Christian society, there are still people even among the Christians and Muslims, who place importance in what is called the death ritual. During this ritual,water…

Sulawesi Surprise!: A Cockfight

As a kid, I have heard of illegal cockfights being carried out in the jungle. Cockfighting has been a favourite pastime since 2000 BC in the Indus Valley and besides India, the blood sport was said to be popular in ancient China, Persia or present day Iran and in Greece during the time of Themistocles (c. 524–460 BC). At one time, it is even accepted as a traditional sporting event in the United States. I haven't heard of a cockfight for a long time but in the market at Tana Toraja, a group of men had gathered for a cockfight. That it was held in the market place suggests that cockfight is perfectly legal there although other parts of Indonesia such as Bali, cockfights have been forbidden since 1981 because the Indonesian Government says it constitutes gambling.Cockfighting is now illegal throughout most of the United States, Brazil and in most of Europe, including Spain. Perhaps, people there prefer wrestling or they rather pit a man against a bull!           24

Do you enjoy this …

Sulawesi Surprise! : A Dusty Market

A burial site may not be a place which you would like to visit. The one opposite the school was a small one anyway and most probably you would forget it the moment you step foot on the market in Tana Toraja but then again, that probably would be an understatement. I suppose Western anthropologists have been known to visit Tana Toraja for the sheer purpose of studying the burial sites of the the 40% or so animists here. But if that's not your cup of tea, get ready to walk the dusty, open air market in Tana Toraja and drink in the sight of callous peddlers peddling their strange wares. Like the little burial site which had earlier offered a glimpse of the macabre, the dusty market had in store some surprises yet... 23

Can you see anything you fancy in this market?

Traveling Tip: Be ready for surprises!

Sulawesi Surprise ! : Sign of the Macabre

Outside the school gates, a group of students were huddled together and you'd believe they were waiting for a bus. School must be over and most probably it must be lunch time too as some of them were picking at their food. God knows if a bus would come to such an isolated area to fetch them but really, all of us were now more preoccupied with what looked like a limestone hill just across the little untarred road. In the Niah Cave in Sarawak, Malaysia, wooden coffin called death ships had been found and while I did not see the ships while I was there, here in Tana Toraja, there were a few ship-liked structure that had seen better times, lying around. Wooden effigies lined the cracks on the walls of the limestone hill. These wooden effigies are called tau tau and in Tana Toraja, their presence suggest the presence of a burial site...22

Can you spot the ships and the tau tau?

Travel Tip: Visit a burial site!