Showing posts from August, 2010

Sulawesi Surprise!: Some Other Attractions

If coffins, skulls and skeletons put you off like they put off many people, maybe you should amuse yourself by looking around the stalls that sell souvenirs to tourists. Besides the usual handicrafts like woodcarving and the likes, you'd be taken by the local folks who live simple lives; and occasionaly cute little kids who are left unattended by the older folks would catch your attention too. Then, perhaps you like nature and you'd go ga ga over the plants there. I remember being shown the vanilla plant somewhere in Tana Toraja and I remember coming across the pegaga plant while exploring the burial sites. Pegaga plants seems to grow very well in the wild in Tana Toraja and I wonder ifTorajans do make drinks or ulam out of them. Ulam, by the way, is a type of salad, typical in South East Asia. Some native plants here like the Pegaga and even tapioca shoots are just eaten raw and are believed to have medicinal properties and would even keep one young and vibrant. In Penang, a…

Sulawesi Surprise!: Skull Surprise!

Can you spot a skull?

Hollywood movies might have ingrained in some of us that skulls are associated with sorcery, the black arts or black magic. Whatever it is, skulls accompanined with some mumbo jumbo most probably could kill, steal, injure or cause some misfortune or destruction to others - or is it just in our mind? - never mind, just that if you happen to practise witchcraft and need a skull for your practice, you'd love Tana Toraja. There is an abundance of skulls there and you could just slip your hand into a coffin and make a grasp for a skull that you fancy. You'd not believe that unless of course, you have seen with your own eyes, a visitor in a burial site making a grab for a skull. The visitor even invited me to hold the skull. Thanks but no thanks! Torajans should not be afraid of skulls. After all, a funeral there could be held weeks, months, or even years after a person passed away. While the deceased's family raise the significant funds needed to cover the …

Sulawesi Surprise! : Look up!

When visiting burial sites in Tana Toraja, it is advisable to look up! That is if you do not want to miss the hanging coffins; I suppose that's what you call those coffins that rest precariously on beams projecting outward from the side of a hill. Hanging coffins do not really confine just to Sulawesi. I remember reading about a female Mainland Chinese lecturer many years ago who had dedicated her life to study the hanging coffins in China. The Bo people, a minority group of people in southern China are famed for their hanging coffins. There are hanging coffins in Philipines too, more specifically in Sagada in Luzon Island and if someone says that there are hanging coffins in Borneo, I would not be surprised too. While I was rather impressed with the burial site in Tana Toraja, a fellow traveller who had worked for many years in East Malaysia said the one we had just visited was not as spectacular as the one he had seen in the Kinabatangan area in Sabah. Now, that was news!    32


Sulawesi Surprise! Skeletons in the Coffins

There are skeletons in the closets; no, I mean in the coffins, and in Tana Toraja in Sulawesi, there are many skeletons in just one coffin. Talk about saving resources; here, several corpses are placed in one coffin. Of course, they are not heaped there at one go. A new coffin may be used to house a corpse and over the years, new corpses, probably from the same family, would be introduced. Probably too, it would take many years to reach a full house...31

Traveling Tip: There are thrills in old skeletons!

Sulawesi Surprise: Wreaths, Crosses and Skeletons

In our itinerary, we were supposed to visit Londa, one of the accessible cliff graves in Tana Toraja. Here, many local nobles were buried. One would expect to see a large balcony filled with tau tau here; and skeletons and old coffins too in caves which you could get to enter with the help of young village guides armed with kerosene lamps. And here we were, in this village that I initially thought was Londa- We were walking on without a guide, up the path of a limestone hill to little unspectacular bright caves. Nevertheless, there were tau taus to be seen, and somewhere along the way, there were old coffins too , some wreaths here and some crosses there. The coffins looked old and moldy and some were so old that the seams were giving way to reveal the skeletons and skulls inside. The wreaths suggested that perhaps there was a death not too long ago and the crosses most probably meant that the dead were Christians. Wreaths, crosses, and skeletons...would you by any chance, love to hav…

Sulawesi Surprise!: 'Tau Tau' of a Burial Site!

The traditional village which we were visiting was not very big. The souvenir shops too were few and small. From the souvenir shops, we walked on and it seemed like it took just a wink before we came face to face with the tau tau of a burial site. Some of these tau tau were huddled and locked up behind grills. I suppose this place was not Londa as I had initially thought. In the net, it has been written that near Rantepao, there is a traditional village with excellent handicraft shops called Kete, behind which is a hillside serving as a gravesite. Here we were, walking towards a hillside and besides tau tau, there seemed to be so many coffins here! This got to be Kete!

Would you be chilled or thrilled with these?

Traveling Tip: Don't just expect thrills!

Sulawesi: Signs of the dead

I thought it was Londa but it could be Kete Kesu that we were visiting - Besides handicrafts, there were Tongkonans here, and rice barns too. Later, we came across little Tongkonans and huts, some with Tau Tau and others with photographs of men and women, suggesting the presence of the dead; and it could be a burial site we were walking into! Modernity, I suppose had touched the community and Tau Tau most probably were slowly being replaced by printed photographs. In some of these little Tongkonans and huts, there were sweets and cigarettes which I assumed, were being offered to the dead and there were even crosses there too, suggesting that the Christians here had not entirely given up their roots and culture...

Can you spot the Tau Tau, photographs of the dead, the offerings to the dead and the cross?

Traveling Tip: Have a heart for little huts!

Sulawesi Surprise!: 'Tau Tau' Souvenirs

The paddy field in Tana Toraja seemed so green. No wonder we hear of people saying that the pasture at the other side of the field is greener! Our bus came to a stop and we saw some Tongkonan beckoning. Tongkonan, if you remember, are traditional Torajan houses with the characteristic boat-shaped roof. There are three types of tongkonan, the tongkonan layuk, the tongkonan pekamberan and the tongkonan batu, each built to house people of different status. Our untrained eyes probably missed the differences but then of course, the souvenir stores at the entrance of the village we were visiting were more attractive! Many of us clambered to browse the souvenirs sold, mostly woodcarvings and T-shirts and there were dolls being sold too. You'd be tempted to buy them to decorate the house but in Tana Toraja, the dolls or rather effigies are called tau tau and are placed in cemeteries to represent the dead... 28
Can you spot the tau tau?

Travel Tips: Know your souvenirs!