Toraja is indeed Melo I – Batutumonga and the Bamboo Forest

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.

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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.

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The Toraja countryside is carpeted with paddy fields

You start to see buffalos that constitute a vital part of the economic and cultural life in Toraja

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The buffalo plays a central role in the economy and culture of Toraja

From Rantepao onwards you start to see the traditional buildings of the Torajanese – the Tongkonan and their accompaniments, the Alang.

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Seeing a Tonkonan when you first get to Toraja is like seeing a cathedral in Europe. You are captivated but by the fifth or sixth Tongkonan, you are OD-ed out.

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.

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Buffalo horns adorn the post in front of a Tongkonan, indicating the prestige of the family. The hornier they are the more up the social ladder the inhabitants are

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.IMG20180803055622.jpg

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.

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The sacred Batu Tumonga, the “upward-looking” rock from which the area got its name

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.

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Workers rebuild  Alang that were destroyed by a strong wind several months ago

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.

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The Suloara’ Village’s Tourist Information Center

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.

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Guide and village secretary Simon explaining the attractions in the area

After that we were off to the Bamboo Forest.

Bamboo Forest

We arrived at a village with the prerequisite collection of Tongkonan and Alang and walked along a path into the Bamboo Forest.

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Tongkonan roofs at the village next to 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.

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Different species of bamboo have different uses in the Bamboo Forest

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.

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Pretty but deadly. The katokkon is HOT! But ever so delicious when made into a sambal to go with cassava and yam fritters by the villagers

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.

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Coloring the traditional motifs of the Torajanese the traditional way by using slivers of bamboo 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That ahensi influencer blacklist

A blacklist, apparently compiled by communications agency professionals of social media influencers, caused a stir last week when it began to be circulated over Whatsapp groups and then on social media.

The list divided these influencers, aka KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) aka Buzzers into those with Bad and Good Behavior and invited comments. Since it was prepared on Google Docs it was a collaborative effort to list down agencies’ experience in dealing with the influencers.

Bad Behaviour included not keeping to deadlines, acting like prima donnas, having managers that were difficult, not delivering what was promised and shoddy work. Good Behaviour was generally the opposite.

As expected, anak ahensi, influencers and wannabe influencers took to Twitter and other social platforms to express their approval or disdain for such a list and affront what the Brahmin class of the Netizenry. After all, who dared to question the behaviour of the influencers who theoretically commanded thousands and thousands of followers and supposedly can influence them?

The fact that some anak ahensi did, and that heaven did not fall on their heads, however, is quite telling of the influence of the influencers. Some, such as Elinor Cohen,  would say that it exposes the fact that the Influencer Emperors has no clothes. I think a bit differently, that Naked Emperors have some function – to attract attention and therefore to build awareness of a brand or some messaging. But that’s where their usefulness stops as they hardly influence decisions to buy or change attitudes.

So why then do clients and their marketeers turn to the influencers? I’d think its largely because of laziness and fear.

Laziness because without outsourcing the noise making business to influencers, the marketers would have to work very hard to generate the kind of content that keeps them relevant to their audiences. So they get the agencies to hire the influencers who generate noise, that in turn generate impressions, reach and sometimes even engagement. But does all of this help push the sales of their products or change attitudes toward a brand? Questionable.

Fear is the other motivator that keeps influencers employed. Clients do not want to confront the fact that with social media the audience rather than the brands is in control. And the end of the day there is no guarantee that the customer would be herded down the Purchase Funnel to buy your products. So they resort to agencies who resort to professional noise makers.

The Blacklist has since been taken down in the social media hubbub that followed. But it’s actually a good thing. Although some of the influencers are a joy to work with many of them are very young – in their early 20s – who discover they have a knack of attracting followers because they can amuse them with their passion for clothes, make up or other past times or propensity to scold others with acerbic wit.

The path from nobody to Influencer for  them is short and devoid of the many stumbles and lessons learned along the way. As such, many of these influencers exhibit the behaviour of people with arrested development, relative children suddenly vested with great superpowers before they learned responsibility, the art of getting along with others and the compromises that one has to make in a collaborative effort. Hence the list of bad behaviour.

If some of these influencers can come to grips that the Blacklist is good, honest feedback then there is hope that they would mature faster and be great guys to work with. If they decide to take umbrage then it’s likely that they will flame out within a short time as the Net throws up influencers by the hundreds every few weeks and the some form or other of The Blacklist would persist, probably in closed social media channels such as WhatsaApp.

As a payback to this Blacklist, some in the influencer camp has threatened to come up with a Blacklist of their own – of agencies who delay payment to the influencers and other vendors for services rendered. I think it would be a good thing if they came up with such a list. There are too many agencies who delay payment to their vendors because the client has yet to pay them.This is unfair on the vendors, some of whom are freelancers or small outfits who rely on a steady cash flow and timely payments to stay in business. Agencies should honour their agreements with their vendors, and if clients do not pay them that shuld not be an excuse to renege on this agreement.

I guess the lesson here is that Blacklists may have silver linings. One of the things the Net does well is to make things more transparent and more transparency can only be the better for the communications business, large swaths of which are riddled with unprofessional and unethical behaviour, both on the side of the influencers and agencies.

Let there be more light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JWT’s decision to tap a PR professional to head advertising and digital agencies – good or bad idea

Unspun thinks its the best idea since tempe but then again, he’s biased to the PR profession.

But JWT has taken a huge step in appointing former Ogilvy PR and Pulse boss Marianne Adamardatine to head its operations in Indonesia, that includes digital agency Mirium.

If it works it will open the doors to lots of PR professionals and possibly usher in a new way of communicating not dominated by the advertising mindset. If it fails, the I-told-you-so guys will have a field day.

Will it work or won’t it? What do communicators out there think?

For more information on the appointment go to my posting in the Maverick blog:

 

Finally a PR person to head a major advertising outfit

These are interesting times for the marketing communications industry and for public relations.

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Like all companies in this area, JWT have been experimenting with how to cope with disruption and media convergence. Their answer is an interesting one in Indonesia: appoint a Public Relations professional to head their team in the country.

Campaign has reported that JWT has appointed Marianne Adamardatine, who has led Ogilvy PR and Pulse for many years, and who was recently appointed by Ogilvy to be their Chief Growth Officer, to head JWT indonesia.

She “will be responsible for expanding the company’s capabilities in strategic brand building, digital transformation, customer experience, marketing automation and commerce activation, as well as driving thought leadership and building business engagement with C-suite clients to initiate integrated campaigns,” according to the company. This means she will oversee the advertising and digital operations, Mirium.

We believe this is the first time that someone from a PR, rather than an advertising background, has been appointed to the top position to a major advertising outfit…read more

IS THERE CREATIVITY IN CU in the NT?

Not since Sumardi Ma, he of the coffin notoriety, has a group of humans shown such  er…creativity?

Unspun had many years ago spent some weeks in the Northern Territory and found a land of great beauty and desolation. Since then it seems that nothing has changed. The Northern Territory remains beautiful and desolate, so desolate that few people have even heard of it, let alone visited it.

So how do you market a place like that? Well, the creatives working for Tourism Northern Territory have wrestled with the problem, injected some earthy Australian humor and come up with this totally original slogan/logo.

Creative or just crass? You decide, but you can’t deny that it grabs you by the sensitive parts.

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To read more about whether this strategy works, read here

Guerrillas and Telkom’s Netflix Blockade

My latest posting at the Maverick blog on Telkom’s decision to block Netflix.

 

The block and tackle surrounding Netflix

Netflix’s entry into Indonesia caused a bit of excitement because it offered the consumer more choice. But shortly after its entry into this market it came across a seemingly huge obstacle. State telco PT Telkomunikasi Indonesia announced on January 27 that it was blocking access to Netflix from its platforms IndiHome, Wifi.id. The Great Blockade was ostensibly carried out, said Telkomsel on the headline of its press release, “to protect customers.”

 

What is it that Indonesian customers need to be protected from? Telkom, again through its press release, listed violence and pornographic content as well as to prevent it from business operations that are “against the public interest, morals or disorder.” Horror! Violence and pornography? Have the decision makers at Telkom watched Indonesian TV or other internet sites recently?

Somewhere along the line Telkom also said that it was upholding the law with the blockade and protecting the “sovereignty of Indonesia from foreign players.”

Very strange reasoning here but while one may be a bit down with a possible rise of moral policing, degradation of the powers of reasoning, and jingoism at any opportunity, we here in Indonesia should also rejoice by the fact that there is competition as well [Read More].

 

 

 

Are Buzzers worth hiring at all?

The real question that needs to be asked is: “Are Buzzers worth hiring at all?”

All but the most naive of Indonesia’s Twittersphere have come to realise that these Buzzers are all hired guns and will tweet on any product – politicians, soap, aphrodisiacs, milk, slimming powders, you name it – for the right price.

Knowing this they don’t believe them or are not influenced by their endorsers. So why pay for buzzers at all?

The reason why so many politicians and brand managers still do is that they are lazy and have no clue how to connect with today’s savvy, hyperlinked and skeptical audiences.

They can’t get their act together to figure who their actual audience is, what makes them tick and how generate their own content that is relevant and engaging.

So they take the easy way out and hire Buzzers. The question that arises here is why aren’t the CEOs wise to this and put a stop to this futile practice?

Media monitor gives Twitter advice to political parties | The Jakarta Post.

Political parties and politicians need to consider more than just how many followers as Twitter user has when looking at hiring “buzzers” for the 2014 general election, a media monitoring company says.

“The number of followers alone does not guarantee the success of engagement created via the buzzer. There are other factors to analyze and measure,” Awesometrics business analyst Hari Ambari said in an official release on Wednesday.

Awesometrics gave a number of examples, such as actor Ringgo Agus Rahman who charged Rp 5 million per message on Twitter to promote a campaign to his 1.7 million followers, while professional corporate worker Henry Manampiring could charge between Rp 5 million and Rp 15 million to “buzz” his 70,000-plus followers.

The comparison clearly showed that users with larger amounts of followers did not always receive higher prices for a “buzz”.

Hari said political parties and politicians who wished to use buzzers had to consider four other factors: the Twitter user’s potential reach, reputation, usual topics and engagement with their followers.

 

Three is a good number

This is a post I wrote in Maverick’s blog about us winning the Agency of the Year award for the third year running.

Satisfied is a word that comes to mind. But also paranoid because I’d sure like to see us retain that title for the next few years coming, as well as winning other awards. There’s just no pleasing some people.

On being MIX’s Agency of the Year – for the 3rd year running

We are delighted to read the October edition of marketing communications MIX, in which Maverick was named Agency of the Year 2013 – for the third  year running.

Journalists were polled by the magazine and asked which PR firm they thought had the best media relations. They apparently voted for Maverick for the third year running, so although we think that PR is much, much more than just media relations and that we are more of a consultancy rather than an agency, we are still pleased by the verdict.

This recognition is important to us because it means that one of our most important “customers” thinks highly of us (the other is the client, who usually vote with their check books and we’ve been fortunate in that area as well). To have journalists giving us the thumbs up on how PR people should deal with them is a rare endorsement as journalists are one hard crowd to please.

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As a partner in Maverick I  was interviewed by the magazine as a prelude to their announcement of the award. I was asked how Maverick could consistently be at the top of the media relations game for three years running and I told them that there was no big secret to media relations. All we had to do is adopt a customer service mentality when it comes to dealing with journalists. We need to understand what they want, when they want it  and how best to give it to them.

Journalists don’t want spin and they despise PR people who go to them with a begging bowl instead of a strong, newsworthy story . And they usually want the information now, or as early as possible before their deadline. So what all the Mavericks are trained to do is to work with our clients so that they have a great story to tell instead of the usual corporate pabulum that their executives are so fond of. We also, using all our skills as consultants, remind, cajole and sometimes push our clients to meet the deadlines.

The tricky part is to have a team of colleagues that understand this and work relentless to super-please the journalist-customer. In this we are very fortunate to work with a great team of consultants who are probably the best customer service professionals on top of their communications and specialised skills. So a shoutout to the Mavbros and Mavchicks, as they like to call themselves, in the Corporate and Marketing Communications practices as well as the specialists in Digital, Research and Monitoring, Design, Community Engagement, Training and, of course, Media Relations.

And a big thank you journalist friends for voting us Agency of the Year once again. We’ll continue to try our best in serving you together with our clients.