I just have to vent on this. I open my FB timeline and there it was: another person being humbled for being chosen to be on a list of notable humans or the recipient of an award, scholarship, fellowship etc. etc.
Do they really feel humbled? Humility tends to make one silent, introspective as one thanks the cosmos for such undeserved benificence.
But when you go on FB, Instagram, LinkedIn and Good knows what other social channels to trumpet your recognition, you may be chuffed, delighted, happy or pumped. Humbled you are not.
So enough of that humble bragging now. It’s not fooling anyone. We’d be more impressive if you told the truth, shamed the Devil and told us how you really feel.
PR 5.0? What is that? I thought that PR 4.0 was ridiculous enough but 4.0 at least has some basis. Its unoriginal thinking and cribbing but it borrows from what is considered the Fourth Industrial Revolution where the manufacturing world progresses from computer and automation to cyber physical systems.
I thought it was ridiculous enough to postulate that there is a PR 4.0, as if there are new principles of communications at work when manufacturing has a revolution. But while the dust has yet to settle on 4.0, some speculators with more time than work on their hands have begun speculating of an Industry 5.0 where personalisation is the name of the game.
That may be a big step for industry but does it correlate to even a small step for PR? I can’t see much a connection where the tools and means for personalisation are already here with us today.
That hasn’t stopped organizations like PR Indonesia to cash in on what they think as the glossiest, sexiest next wave in PR (that would hopefully attract more paying guests to their workshops).
If they are really ahead of the curve then it would be great and maybe the speakers listed in their flyer can explain what PR 5.0 is all about. But if they aren’t, then it would make them cynical showmen and women trawling for the gullible.
Given the appalling state of the PR Industry – where many so-called PR professionals are so unskilled and uninformed to perform basic PR functions – it would be better for organizations like PR Indonesia to focus on teaching the professionals how to walk than to try to outrun their own competency and the needs of the Indonesian PR industry.
For years we have been using Achmad Zaky interview tapes to demonstrate to media training clients what not to do when speaking to the Press or, in his case, to anybody really.
That’s because when he speaks before cameras the performance is usually cringeworthy for any PR professional. he usually comes across as cavalier, gruff and unpolished and saying things that aren’t always relevant and sometimes comes across as offensive.
Now, of course, Achmad Zaky has outdone himself.
Yesterday he took to Twitter to rail against the Government’s allocation to R&D:
Bad enough that he implicitly criticized the government for paying lip service to Industry 4.0 (if anyone knows what 4.0 is supposed to mean please let me) without providing the funding for it.
The biggest mistake in his Tweet, however, is when her seeming attacked the president personally in this sensitive runup to the president elections. “Hopefully, the next president would be able to increase (the funding).”
This Tweet caused a Tweetstorm from Jokowi’s supporters using the hashtag #uninstallbukalapak They feel particularly betrayed because Jokowi recently graced Bukalapak’s anniversary celebrations and appeared side-by-side with Zaky before the Press.
This is a favor, according to industry insiders, that Ahmad Zaky has been clamoring for. They say that Zaky has been envious his rival, Tokopedia’s William Tanuwijaya who seem to get much more attention from the media and the President than Zaky. So when Zaky was seen criticising the president and asking for his ouster with the “next president” reference, it hurt particularly bad.
When the criticisms started raining down on him Zaky tried to explain his way out of it with another Tweets:
It’s one of those non-apology apologies where he explained how his intent was misconstrued and misrepresented.
He then tried the maaf word, but here again it was a non-apology apology. “Sorry to Jokowi’s supporters if there was anything amiss in my words has caused any misconceptions. I know Jokowi as someone who is good whom I consider like my own father (we’re both from Solo). Recently he visited us at our anniversary. There is certainly no ill will in my Tweet.
It is apologies like this that infuriate people. Explanations and justifications instead of an admission of wrong doing followed by an absence of proper contrition. It would not be surprising if it inflames rather than abates the fury of Jakowi’s supporters toward Zaky.
Indonesia has few unicorns as it is and Bukalapak provides a good challenge to Tokopedia and other other players. It would be a pity if Zaky’s lack of communications skills sinks his promising business.
He should get professional help, or at least listen to his professional PR advisors if they are any good, before he utters the next public statement or Tweets his thoughts. And while he’s at it he would do well to also whether his gruff communication style has rubbed off on the rest of Bukalapak, resulting in his minions treating their vendors and partners with the same perceived lack of care and respect.
Pecha Kucha Nights are always quite enlightening and stimulating because you get to learn what various thought and community leaders are up to.
Last night’s Pecha Kucha Night, with the theme Consume Consciously was particularly insightful. There were seven speakers, each committed to the 20X20 format of Pecha Kucha – 20 slides at 20 seconds each to share their ideas.
They were all Millienials and what emerged from their talks is the reason why big brands and retailers should be worried.
Up on the stage of the newly renovated CJ-CGV Rumah Kreasi, you have all these young, bright and articulate young people committing themselves to minimalist – as opposed to conspicuous consumption – lifestyles.
At the age my generation would have been considered a prime target for marketing companies as we had the disposal income to spend, spend, spend. The speakers at Pecha Kucha also had disposal incomes but instead of spending they have opted to do more with less.
Eva Celia, for instance, spoke of how she threw out her accumulated fast fashion clothes when she realised that material things did not define who she was. She also became a vegan that, though not for me, is the most logical thing to do if you really want to stop global warming.
Astri Puji Lestari also spoke about how much lighter she felt when she decided to commit to the minimalist lifestyle. She showed us a photo of a tiny wardrobe belonging to her and her husband and told us that everything there were literally the clothes on their backs. In spite of all this renunciation she still looked chic with a linen blouse she had worn on her wedding, brown pants and off-white loafers.
Denia Isetianti of Cleanomics (from Clean + Economics) spoke about how she came about realising the amount of waste we dispose of in our daily lives and how that has led her to start a shop that is aimed at selling environmentally friendly household and other items.
Other speakers were also committed to conscious consumption but also took an activist approach. Tiza Mafira of Gerakan Indonesia Diet Kantong Plastic Indonesia, has declared war on the ubiquitous plastic shopping bag, campaigning hit her friends ceaselessly for local governments to ban their use at retail outlets.
Nezatullah Ramadhan of Nara Kreatif spoke about how he was part of starting a social enterprise that took worthless discarded paper and recycled it into a means of income and funds for education for poor families.
And David Christian of Evoware spoke abut converting a plentiful resource – seaweed – into disposable (and edible) cups and “plastic bags” that break down into organic material in 7 days.
Rounding everything up was Hani Sumarno from Jakpro who lauded the efforts of all the speakers but also said that the amount of rubbish Jakarta produces was so massive that there was no immediate solution. The matter has also become very urgent because the current landfill of Bantar Gerbang will be full and closed down by next year. That is why an Intermediate Treatment Facility was needed to complement al the efforts at turning the country greener and more environmentally friendly.
In Indonesia Unspun has found that when things get you down something will usually crop up to blow your socks off and restore your faith in the country.
What got Unseen down recently was the amount of rubbish and discarded plastic bags polluting the otherwise spectacular and beautiful tourist sites in the southern coast of Java. On a trip there about a month ago to a waterfall called Curug Cikaso, for instance, the falls were picturesque, the water would have been fresh and clear – except for the moon and mounds of rubbish and plastic bags from upriver strewn all over the place.
The presence of rubbish and plastic materials – bottles, bags and shoes – was so endemic that you could not go anywhere without noticing them.
Then you have these young people taking at Pecha Kucha who are asking the talk when it comes to making Indonesia a better place to live. These are opinion leaders if you look at their social media followings. They have also taken concrete actions and built real businesses along the lines of their commitment. They restore one’s faith in the future of Indonesia.
Friends and acquaintances who are so talented and must have accomplished so much and shown such promise that they have been singled out time and again to receive one plush fellowship or another.
You know them. They are the ones that pop up in your timeline proclaiming they feel so “humbled” to be selected for such fellowships, then proceed to bombard you with photos of the hallowed halls of influence and scholarship they’ve been sent to and the beautiful super smart people they’ve met.
At first we feel very happy for them, to be recognised for their contributions and being sent out on fellowships so they may learn of developments in their field by others in other countries.
Presumably, this would open their eyes give them new insights with which to come home and put new ideas into practice for the benefit of recipients of their cause.
So we like their posts when they so generously share on social media the great times they had and the illustrious people they meet.
Then they come home and before you know it, they are on yet another fellowship again. And again with barely a year’s hiatus in between.
Which makes you wonder,
About the institutions dishing out these fellowships. Is Indonesia so thin on talent and worthy people that the same people keep being selected all the time?
About the recipients themselves. Where do they find time to put their new learnings and insights to work if they are busy going form one fellowship to the next?
Unspun recently had conversations with his friends and and we tried to analyse what these recipients do after their initial spurt of productivity that saw them establishing causes, movements and organisations for the public good. Out conclusion was that we couldn’t see how their fellowships had benefitted their causes.
In fact, in some instances, we felt that their causes had suffered from neglect because their founders/main movers were too busy traveling father fellowships.
We counted a couple of serial fellows who must have gone on three or four fellowships over the past five years.
There comes a point in life when anything, even the best intentioned ones involving very talented people, become ridiculous.
This is the second of a three-part account of a recent short trip to Tana Toraja. Situated in the highlands of central Sulawesi, it is a land of breathtaking beauty, rugged landscapes and and a unique culture that embraces death, bloody sacrifices and all the things about life than that sanitised urbanites have lost touch with. The title of this post comes from the phrase Toraja Melo, which in Torajanese means Toraja the Beautiful.
What makes Toraja so alive in the minds of many tourists is Death.
Toraja has always been known for its mummies, the ease in which the living live with the dead and its elaborate and bloody funerals. Its death rites are so well known that Toraja was featured in a recent Netflix documentary on destinations with a touch of the macabre, Dark Tourist. In an episode focusing on Southeast Asia the documentary featured the cleansing of a mummy as well as funeral rites of Toraja, the latter of which we got to witness first hand.
We were a group of 8 adults and a 6-year old. Our first encounter with the Trojanese attitude toward Death took place during a seemingly innocuous walk after we arrived at our host’s house at Batutumonga, in the heart of Tana Toraja.
Our host was Dinny Jusuf. She was born in Pekalongan but she fell in love with Toraja and a Torajanese, Danny, who’s clan was from the Batutumonga area. They eventually got married and these days Dinny runs Toraja Melo, a social enterprise that aims to help and empower the weavers and villagers of Toraja.
After we had arrived and rested, we took a walk around Dinny and Danny’s home, a beautiful three-roomed concrete and timber house in Batutumonga, deep in the Toraja highlands.
During the walk, Dinny told us about the re-burial of her father-in-law. Her father-in-law had married into a family from the valley from a kingdom called Sa’ Dan. He was buried there when he died some years ago. Dinny, however, kept having dreams where her father-in-law told her that he wanted to be buried at Batutumonga among his family and clan.
After some negotiations (lots of that go on in Toraja as consensus building is a major part of how the society works), the Sa’Dan family consented to the family moving his remains. A Rock Whisperer was called in. These are shaman-like figures who are able to “ask” the selected rock if it is willing to be opened to accommodate a crypt.
The rock consented, but it named a price. It wanted a dog sacrificed before they could start chiseling out the entrance to the grave. Once they had opened up the entrance there would be another consultation with the rock and another sacrifice demanded. And on an on it went. That grave cost six dogs their lives.
When the grave was completed they transferred the remains of her father-in-law there. Several years later, his daughter died and was also interred in the same grave. Torajanese graves can be quite large.
The next morning we walked to the Suloara village where we saw several Tongkonan and Alang belonging to the clan. We were allowed to go into one of the Tongkonan.
Inside, there was a central area with a fireplace. Then there were two rooms, one to the front and the other to the back. These are where the family slept. Our guide told us that often the embalmed bodies of their relatives were kept in the back room.
As funerals in Toraja can be very expensive, families have been known to keep these bodies for years until they can afford to hold one. Some families, our guide told us, have kept a body in the back room for as long as 40 years.
In the meantime, the family carry on their lives normally, including sleeping in the same room as the mummified body. The Torajanese believe that the body, when embalmed by experts, would not decay or smell. There must be a huge amount of truth to this if they can sleep with the bodies for 40 years.
We did not get to see the mummies that they apparently bring out each year for a bit of spring cleaning, before wrapping them up again, putting them back in their coffins and into the graves for another year. Apparently this year that ritual takes place on August 20. There is footage of this in Netflix’s Dark Tourist.
Funeral at Palawa
It’s macabre, but tourists virtually live for Death to come calling in Toraja.
That’s because of the elaborate and sanguine funerals of the Torajanese.
When someone dies, and the family can afford it, they throw a huge funeral party of hundreds from neighbouring clans. Makeshift bamboo shelters are put up to house the neighbouring clans.
In the funeral we went to, at Palawa, it looked like an organised affair. On the way to the common area of the village we saw men with blowtorches burning the bristles off the skins of slaughtered pigs. They then proceeded to carved them into small pieces to be distributed to the visiting clans.
Then there were the buffalo tethered in the central area. Most of the buffalo were black. The black ones were the hoi polloi of buffalo but still fetched something like Rp 5 mio each. Then there are the albino ones that usually have black spots or patches. These are the, if you’ll excuse the pun, Brahmin of buffalo. They are prestigious because of their relative rarity allows them to command a price of over Rp250 million per animal.
The buffalo and pigs are donated by visiting clans as a sign of respect to the family. These animals, after slaughter, are supposed to carry the deceased to the afterlife. The gifting of buffaloes are all tallied up by the families, who never forget a debt.
When the donor’s clan leader dies the receiving clan is expected to reciprocate by donating the same amount of buffalo or pigs to redeem their debt. In this way, the society is bound together in a web of obligations. It also locks them into a cycle of poverty trying to square their debts as clans may have to donate up to 24 buffalo each.
The visiting clans were allocated their own areas, all numbered, in makeshift shelters. It was ironical to see the decorative pennants and numbers of the shelters being sponsored by a purveyor of death, the cigarette brand, LA Bold.
The more socially established clans got spaces under the Alang or Tonkonan. All over the compound you can see traces of animal parts or blood.
When we arrived there were a group of about 30 men gathered in a circle chanting. Apparently this is a rite after the body has been put into the coffin, which is shaped like a tear-shaped cylinder.
Each of the men received a cigarette each for their participation.
Then there was a troupe of dancing girls who performed in front of guests seated at a makeshift cluster of platforms in the centre of the compound. When they finished the audience would drop money into a basket that is covered by a cloth to hide the amount donated.
There was activity everywhere. Buffalo were being led here and there. Pigs were trussed and left to lie in the hot sun until their time came when men with spray cans would mark them up and they, squealing, were taken to slaughter by a group of workers.
I did not see it, but one of our group, who was in the best of times was queasy with the sight of blood, had to pick her way through a wasteland of remains and blood on her way to the toilet. Being accompanied by a local she found it difficult to say she would not go and had to run the gauntlet of gore.
We felt uncomfortable with the treatment of the animals but we were also aware that city slickers like ourselves were so sanitised from the taking of life for food; and so removed from Torajan culture that it would be unfair for us to impose our values on them.
One of our group remarked that the killing was part and parcel of Torajan culture and you cannot separate it from the other more appealing cultural aspects. We left the funeral wondering if we should turn vegetarian.
The Graves of Loko’Mata
One of the most well-known grave sites in Tana Toraja is Loko’Mata, which is a gigantic granite boulder riddled with more than 20 grave chambers, spread roughly over five levels. The higher the level the higher the status of the departed when they were alive.
At the base of the rock are miniature Tongkonan that were used to carry the coffins to the area. Each of the graves had a carved door decorated with traditional Torjanese motifs. Photos and portraits of the departed were hung on them. You can also see bottles of water, Sprite and other foodstuff put on the entrance of the graves as offerings to the dead.
All the graves belong to a single clan. The rock has apparently been used for two to three hundred years but at the side of the boulder away from the road, another grave was being opened on the rock.
The graves at Loko’Mata also had some Tau Tau, effigies of the dead. One had a buffalo head carved into the rock.
The gravesite, however, that is most well-known for its Tau Tau is Lemo.
The graves there date back to the 16th century and are dug into a limestone cliff. There you can see rows of Tau Tau looking down at you and the valley.
The Tau Tau are life-like and are carved by the artisans in that village who have been plying their trade for hundreds of years. There is a shop near the base of the cliff whose owner carves Tau Tau. At the back of the shop I saw with the corner of my eye two women, one young and another old, sitting on a bench, seemingly holding hands.
It was when I looked more carefully that I realise that the old woman was a Tau Tau. The young woman seemed at ease sitting together with her. I was spooked.
We also visited Ke’te’ Kesu’. The village was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site that is known for its well -reserved Tongkonan, as well as its hanging coffins.
Unlike recently built ones, the roofs of the Tongkonan at at Ke’te’ Kesu’ were made from bamboo, the original material for their distinctive roofs. These days Tongkonan are built with corrugated zinc roofs.
What was even more fascinating about Ke’te’ Kesu’, however, were the hanging coffins on the limestone cliffs behind the village.
Walk up a flight of stairs and you will see finely carved coffins hundreds of years old in various states of decay. Some are propped up on timber poles high up in the cliff.
Others are clustered at the base of the cliff. They might have fallen down when their supports decayed. Some of these coffins are split open, others had gaping holes. Inside and on top of these coffins are stacked human skulls and bones.
A particularly beautiful coffin was carved in the shape of a buffalo head.
As they are just beside the cemented path that visitors use, and are unguarded, they are vulnerable to vandalism and theft. Apparently, a few days before there was much hue and cry from the locals when some Indonesians from out of town, to satisfy their Instagram urges, began to take photographs with their legs on skulls.
Tourists, in my experience, will do anything. Some tourists must have taken the skulls and bones home as souvenirs. The problem is such that on the noticeboards along the visitors path are warnings to visitors against taking the bones or skulls. “Please show respect,” said the notice, and then the clincher warning: “We receive reports of the taker being haunted by the spirits.”
That about sums up our experience with deaths, funerals and graves for this trip. Coming up next – Toraja is indeed Melo III: Buffalo Market and a night of Torajanese culture, food and the local fire water – balloc.
This is the first of a three-part account of our group’s travel to Tana Toraja. There were eight of us with a 6-year old in tow and we had a fabulous time. There is so much to share about Toraja, the Torajanese’s relationship with Death and their strange rituals and the culture there that I’ve split the account into three posts: the first is on the Batutumonga area and Toraja Melo that organised the trip for us. The second post will deal with death, funerals and crypts but into solid rock. The final post will be about the Bolu Market at Rantepao village that boasts a Buffalo market, a pig market and almost everything else. Enjoy.
Toraja is one of those places you put on your bucket list. There are tales and myths about the mysticism, the breath-taking scenery in a land above the mists and the elaborate — some would all it bizarre — death rituals.
It’s been on mine for many years but the closest I got to the area was Soroako for a media training assignment and to the Togian Islands for a diving trip.
This time, however, the opportunity cropped up. Through one of those meetings where we realise that the world is smaller than we think in terms of overlapping circles of friends and interests, my wife and I met Dinny Jusuf , the founder of Toraja Melo (melo = beautiful in Torajanese) , when she was invited to speak at a Pecha Kucha session hosted by Maverick.
Toraja Melo is a social enterprise started by Dinny in 2008 that aims to alleviate poverty among rural women by organizing the community into a weavers’ cooperative, teaching them to make quality hand-woven products and by designing and marketing community-based travel.
With 10 years of effort behind it, Toraja Melo was ready to move onto marketing its community-based travel concept, and by serendipitous happenstance our group of 8 adults and a six-year old became the third group to experience it.
We were not disappointed.
Getting to Tana Toraja is now relatively easy. A few years back you had to fly to the Sulawesi capital of Makassar and then take an 8-hour car ride into Rantepao or Makale, the main towns deep in the central highlands of the island.
These days all you have to do to get there is take a short flight from Makassar to Bua Airport near Palopo and from there it’s a mere 2.5-hour car ride into the Toraja heartland.
The ride, as expected, is spectacular as the car whisks you through winding roads into the mountains that rise up to 2,800 meters above sea level and carpeted by paddy fields.
You start to see buffalos that constitute a vital part of the economic and cultural life in Toraja
From Rantepao onwards you start to see the traditional buildings of the Torajanese – the Tongkonan and their accompaniments, the Alang.
The former are the distinctive saddleback-roofed ancestral houses where the family stay, the latter are smaller and are used to store rice after it is harvested. Tongkonan are male, Alang are female. They face each other. There was too be a lot of this male-female dichotomy one the next few days.
Tongkonan are also decorated with a rooster and buffalo carving in the front. There is also a pole in which buffalo horns from the animals slaughtered are hung. Obviously the more horns there are the more prestigious the family is.
Our starting point and base for the next three days was the Batutumonga area. This is where Dinny and her Torajanese husband Danny have built their house, a modern, minimalistic concrete and hardwood two-storey structure with balcony that has a view to die for.
The view from Dinny and Danny’s house balcony
We stayed with them for our trip and was plied with an endless supply of snacks and local dishes in between our forays into the Torajanese countryside. Our first day was just chilling and drinking win on the balcony as we rested from our trip there.
Dinny explained that the name of the area came from a sacred rock that, like its name (Batu = stone Tumonga = upward looking) suggests, seems to be looking upwards . It was the male counterpart, and the locals believe that the rock emanates great power. The female counterpart was about a hundred meters away.
Nearby, we saw some Alang being reconstructed as they were blown off during strong winds a few months ago.
The Tongkonan are built on pillars but not all touched the ground. Only the corner pillars and those every 3 meters apart did. The others were suspended, propped up by cleverly constructed cross beams. This was apparently to allow the buildings to survive earthquakes.
We got to go into one of the Tongkonan. Narrow stairs lead into a common area where there was a fireplace and an area that served as the kitchen. On the back was a room where the family slept and corpses were kept. Our guide told us that some families have been known to have kept a corpse for 40 years as they saved up enough money for a funeral. In the meantime, the family shared the room with the corpse, who was embalmed in a mystical process so it never decomposed. That was our first exposure to the strange rites surrounding death in Toraja. There is more in the next instalment of our trip to Toraja.
We then walked a small distance to the Suloara’ Tourism Village. Dinny and the Toraja Melo Foundation are working with the local tourism body comprising 65 members and 20 homesteads from four villages in the area in a community based tourism project that they have called the Toraja Mountain Valley Tour.
Under this project, Dinny through Toraja Melo designs and markets the tours. The villagers become tour guides and hosts and agree to maintain cleanliness and sustainable practices in their villages. In return they get a large chunk of the revenues paid by the tourists.
At Suloara’ we were taken to a hut that was the Tourist Information Center. There Simon, the village secretary, who had been trained by Swiss Contact to speak English, explained the sights we would see in the area.
Swiss Contact had also helped the villagers prepare brochures and a map of the area’s attractions. Simon’s English was halting but he made himself understood.
After that we were off to the Bamboo Forest.
We arrived at a village with the prerequisite collection of Tongkonan and Alang and walked along a path into the Bamboo Forest.
There were at least three types of bamboo that the Torajanese use for different purposes growing in the forest. There was a bamboo for building and one for preparing food in and a third that I forgot the use of.
At the end of the walk we were offered some local snacks – corn and fried cassava and yam — accompanied by the most mouth-watering and tongue burning sambal made from the local pepper, the katokkon. They look like Habanero peppers but they are way more potent. Five alarm fire and sit in the toilet the next morning kinda strength.
Some of us got to practice our dexterity by getting to colour small pieces of wood carvings with the Toraja traditional method of using bamboo liners as brushes.
Toraja Melo also works with about 250 weavers in the Sa’dan Matallo area, where Dinny’s mother-in-law grew up in. The weavers live in the hills and bring their handiwork to stalls set up beside the Tongkonan of Sa’dan village. The village takes its name from the Sa’dan river that flows from the mountains.
We had time to get our feet wet in its cold clear waters before having home-cooked lunch of chicken and coconut, vegetables, corn fritters and steamed fish under an Alang.
Our next destination after lunch and a little shopping at the stalls, was what many tourists hope to see when they came to Toraja – a funeral, elaborate, grand and featuring hundreds of guests and clans.
If you are interested in the Community-Based Travel that Toraja Melo organises you can contact them here.
Up next — Toraja is indeed Melo II: Death, Funerals and Graves