Tomia, Wakatobi, 2018
Continued from Toraja is indeed Melo I – Batutumonga and the Bamboo Forest
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.
A feeling of sadness always descends on me when I travel to the old, colonial part of Jakarta, Kota Tua. It was once the busiest part of Jakarta since it was close to the sea and port. Many old buildings stand there still. A few have been restored well, some have been mangled by modern bad taste.
The majority of buildings however, are left to rot, abandoned and neglected and suffer the indignity of being a dumpsite for rubble and rubbish.
In spite, or perhaps because of this neglect, the Kota Tua area has grown to be a hodgepodge of narrow streets, filthy drains and canals, small recently built houses, and homeless workers who sleep outside the buildings at nights or on holidays when the shops are closed.
A way of life has evolved there, with middle-class to poor Chinese Indonesians living cheek by jowl with the Betawi and other immigrants. This life recalls a Jakarta gone by, a simpler and less prosperous time when people made do, things get repaired or recycled rather than discarded.
It is also a time of simpler pleasures, such as a bicycle ride but now done with the menacing roar of traffic beside the cyclists.
It is a life of simple commerce where you’re likely to know the street vendor and shops catering to local tastes.
The Jakarta Government has talked about reviving Kota Tua and have even formed a Jakarta Old Town Revitalisation Corporation, but it seems to be more talk than action.Buildings lies neglected but life goes on as people, in their ingenuity, will find some means to make money to feed themselves and their families.
Unspun‘s been in many hotels, even the ones he can’t afford. Usually he and a few of his cheapskate friends would go there for tea and ask to see the rooms. The Aman and other resorts and fallen prey to such cheapskatery.
But of all the hotels Unspun’s seen none has been so captivating and enchanting as the Argos in Cappadocia.
On a recent trip to Turkey the Unspuns and extended family members stayed at the Argos and it was simply the best hotel ever that Unspun’s lived in, let alone seen.
The Argos whispered of understated elegance, simplicity and elegance combined with an attention to detail that leaves you visually sated.
The Argos is located in Uchisar, a village in Capadocia that is known for its fairy chimneys and moonscape-like terrain, caused by wind erosion over thousands of years. The volcanic rock was also easy to dig into and for thousands of years, until recently, Hittites, Christians and Cappadocians have been hewing cave houses in the rocks.
Uchisar is a charming village with a couple of mosques, a plaza of sorts and topped by a huge rock called The Castle. The Argos is on the side of Uchisar that overlooks a volcanic mountain Mt Erciyes and Pigeon Valley.
If you are an amateur photographer like Unspun, you begin to get visually stimulated as you approach the Argos via a cobbled street among rustic looking houses. At the entrance to the reception vibrant yellow pumpkins lines the stairs and inside the decor of antiques, wooden floors and spacious yet cozy layout.
Our rooms were on the opposite side of the cobbled road. You enter through an old women door. A small antique window is on your left, you go up the stairs and you see a courtyard. On one side is a table of six inside a pergola. Drying corn cobs are hung from its arches.
Outside are a couple of rattan recliners, a huge sofa with brightly colored cushions and a small square fountain.
Go up again and there is another courtyard that overlooks Pigeon Valley and its many fairy chimneys. Our room was there. On entering the room you see the double bed in an alcoves cut into the mountain wall.
A corridor leads you to a sitting room with a view of Pigeon Valley and the courtyard below. Next to it is a bathroom, also hewn into the mountain face that makes you feel like you want to shower till you look like a prune.
When you walk around the hotel you are constantly surprised at virtually every corner with little touches – drying twigs piled on rocks here, small bunches of potted plants there, old horseshoes nailed to another wall, a burst of red flowers in volcanic rock pots elsewhere.
Then there is the patio where you have your breakfast. Being summer, the weather was perfect. Every morning there we would sit in the patio with Pigeon Valley laid out before us.
They would serve a Turkish breakfast – olives, tomatoes, cucumber, simit (a kind of bread), cheeses, jams. Then would come the omelets, coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice…you get the idea. And all the while there is this heartbreakingly beautiful scenery drenched in sunlight before you.
Pigeon Valley is also where you can go hot air ballooning. A hot air balloon trip starts at 4.30am when a driver picks you up from the hotel and takes you to their office where you have – surprise – a Turkish Breakfast (although not as good as the one at the Argos) before putting you on a balloon.
At just about when the sun rises, your balloon takes off – together with what seems a hundred or more of them. The tourism in Turkey is so hot, any destination attracts thousands of tourists at any one time.
Ballooning in that area is particularly a treat because the balloons hover over the moonscape like terrain and dip into the valleys, all alit in the glow of sunrise.
After that we couldn’t wait to get back to the Argos again, just to immerse ourselves in it earthy aesthetics and to discover new nooks and corners that continue to surprise the eyes.
Been a long time since Unspun played writer (as opposed to a mere blogger) and Tempo, the English version of the magazine, this week carried his travels and impressions in a 6-page spread from the ancient city of Mrauk U in Myanmar. Here it is:
For more photos of Sittwe and Mrau U, go here
For text of story, buy Tempo English, but if you’re too cheap or too far away, leave a comment and I’ll send you the text.
Yes, it is indeed shameful if even half of what the blogger, Mike Foster, says is true. As someone who’s adopted Jakarta and Indonesia as my home I feel duty bound to defend Jakarta and Indonesia. As have a few Indonesians who have seen the Twitter message.
I tend to agree with @crivenica and @heradiani in their Tweets that the Mike Foster does come across as an uptight tourist. Indonesia, after all, is a Third World country, only that the phrase has become unfashionable, being substituted by the more politically correct “Emerging Country” label. Foster comes across as uptight because in a city of more than 14 million people all he could see was the frightening and negative aspects of the city. He was unable for some reason, to peer beyond the negatives to see something, anything positive. perhaps his friend Andy is a really crummy tourist guide but one suspects that Foster is one who would rather whine than accept the fact that he is in a Third World country, accept the filth, contradictions, traffic congestion and contrasts as facts of life and get over it to enjoy his stay here.
Foster also makes the terrible mistake of equating Jakarta with Indonesia, which is unfortunate. Indonesia is so much, much more and different than Jakarta and if he were to go to Flores or a dozen other choice sites in Indonesia he would know what heartwrenching beauty Indonesia has in store for those who venture beyond the Big Durian.
Having said that, however, a lot of Foster’s complaints about Jakarta is legit. Us old Jakarta hands realize that Foster’s complaints are only some of the myriad aspects of the city that makes Jakarta Jakarta. Bu to a fresh pair of eyes, especially if they aren’t the adventurous types (and how many tourists are really adventurous?) Jakarta can come across as dirty, chaotic, unsafe and congested.
If Jakarta wants to attract the tourists, both to the city and to Indonesia, the authorities will have to acknowledge that the traffic, cleanliness and safety (or at least the perception of safety from a tourist’s viewpoint) are problems that need to be addressed. Like many other Twitterers, Unspun was inclined to use the argument of “but other countries are worse than Jakarta” but its a temptation best not given to as it i a false argument. So what if other countries are dirtier and worse off than us, we do not have control over what they do or do not do. We have control over, how our countries (adopted or native) functions and that’s what we should take responsibility for and try to change.
I just visited Indonesia some time ago, to visit my friend from the university. He’s an Indonesian, so during my vacation I decided to go to Indonesia for a vacation and visit him.
I must say that Indonesia is not a country worth visiting … sorry about this, Andy if you read my posting. For starter, Jakarta is very dirty, you’ll see trash and litter everywhere you go. I just can’t imagine a capital city with this poor level of cleanliness. I was fortunate to have Andy my friend to show me around Jakarta, in which rarely tourists are shown to. Areas that you may see quite clean and sophisticated are only in the downtown area. I only remembered the streets named Sudirman, Thamrin and Kuningan that are quite representative for a capital city. Any other areas you go, you’ll feel like that you’re in some third-world country with poor people and trash everywhere (I think Indonesia is still considered a third-world?)
I was lucky I have a friend in Jakarta, otherwise I wouldn’t dare goind around in public transportation. I was told to be careful when selecting cabs. I remembered there is only one company considered safe, called Blue Bird or something, with their cars painted in blue. I was told not to take just any cab since it wouldn’t be safe. I was told there are so many crimes occured involving taxi drivers. I certainly didn’t want to take the public busses. Wait until you see them yourselves, and I bet you wouldn’t want to ride in one either. The busses are so dirty, so packed with people and the vehicles themselves look as if they’re very poorly taken care of. I couldn’t even find a decent information of which bus should I take if I would want to go somewhere, and what is the fare. Those busses have someone (or sometimes two) called “conductor” hanging around in the door, collecting money from passengers. I was terrified to see them hanging like that in the door while the bus were driving quite fast. Well, yes they have now a network of public busses called TransJakarta if I’m not mistaken, but the network was not vast enough to cover the whole city.
Not to mention the streets from hell. The traffic in Jakarta beats the hell out of any traffic I’ve ever seen in the world.
Traffic jams everywhere. People driving with only one or two inches away from each other. The worse of all is the motorcycles. I even said to my friend that they are like motorcycles from hell. They squeezed their way to very small gaps between cars, sometimes even hit our rearview mirrors. They constantly cut your way, so my friend always to be extra careful with them and sometime he even had to hit the brake brutely to avoid collisions. What an experience … I must say. I sometimes jumped from my seat when suddenly a motorcycle speeding through our side of the cars with just few inches away, in a traffic jam, with their loud noises …. a hell indeed. Andy even told me that be very careful not to hit a motorcycle, since even that you’re not the one causing the collision, the car driver would be the one blamed and they could go rough on you asking for money. I said “what the hell …. what kind of people are they … we’re not living in the dark ages are we?” … and Andy could just shrugged with bitter smile.
Another important thing … be careful of the food. I got stomachache for 3 days because Andy took me to this food stall that he said very delicious. Well the food was alright … but I got diarrhea the next day. Well, if you go to this food stall, you wouldn’t be surprised why I got the diarrhea. It was a very small food stall, on a pedestrian. Just next to the pedestrian was this open sewer, and guess what … people threw away trash into that sewer. Not to mention flies everywhere and I could have sworn a saw a cockroach running around. My advice is to stick to the food from restaurants, clean restaurants. It’s a bit expensive, but at least your stomach would be safe.
I’ll continue with my experience in Indonesia …. more surprises coming from this unbelievable country … which I don’t intend to visit again, at least not in several years until they could improve to be a more civilized country.
Someone help Unspun here please.
Can anyone explain how a “senior” singer such as Eddy Silitonga, him of the cheesy mustache and unkempt haircut, is going to attract droves of tourists to Indonesia’s shores?
Does the Tourism Minister, in his infinite wisdom and impeccable taste, think that Eddy will appeal to would be tourists in 49 countries. Perhaps the Minister is looking for geriatric tourists, on the belief that the old geezers have more money to spend on Indonesian healthcare while visiting this fair archipelago.
Or perhaps, shudder of shudders, the Minister finds Eddy such a sexy singee that women in the four corners of the world would want to flock to Indonesia after they see and hear Eddy perform. Or is it that he bears an uncanny resemblance to the inimitable Roy Suryo?
And while we tax our little grey cells about Eddy we might want to spare some energy wondering the need for the Support Team, “which will monitor and support the logistics during the journey.”
The choice of advisors for this team for a fading singer is none other than top flight lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis and the inspector general of the National Police Agus Wantoro, who will “help the program succeed”.
What do they know about music? What do they know about tourism? What do advisors of the support team do in such trips? The mind boggles.
This story in The Jakarta Post:
Senior singer appointed as tourism envoy
The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Tue, 02/09/2010 3:25 PM | Business
Culture and Tourism Minister Jero Wacik has appointed Eddy Silitonga, a senior Indonesian singer, Indonesian tourism envoy, traveling around the world to promote the country’s tourism.
The journey will include visits to 49 countries on five continents within nine months, the ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
Silitonga’s program as a tourism envoy will basically cover three main activities: singing at the various places he visits such as cafes, restaurants and hotels; people-to-people contact with local communities and tourists; and organizing “Indonesian Art Nights” at all Indonesian embassies in the countries he will visit.
Two groups will support the program to be dubbed the “The Indonesian Team for Culture and Tourism Promotion by Eddy Silitonga”.
The first group will be called the “Journey Team” consisting of six people, including Eddi Silitonga, who will travel to the 49 countries. And the second group will be the “Support Team”, which will monitor and support the logistics during the journey.
Todung Mulya Lubis, a prominent lawyer, and inspector general of the National Police Agus Wantoro, are advisors to the journey team to help the program succeed.
The program will be implemented from April 16, 2010 to January 10, 2011, Antara reported.
If you’ve been to Bandung lately you’ll know how bad the traffic gets during holidays. It’s mostly people from Jakarta but also an increasing number of tourists from Malaysia with an eye for bargains. This from The Jakarta Post
Yuli Tri Suwarni , The Jakarta Post , Bandung | Thu, 07/16/2009 1:36 PM | Supplement
Nuryahati Sailima, 24, of Selangor, Malaysia, did not mind at all that she had to wear a surgical mask for about an hour on an Air Asia flight that flew her from Kuala Lumpur to Bandung, the capital of West Java, last Friday.
The swine flu issue has prompted the Malaysian government to take precautionary steps by obliging its citizens to wear masks on plane trips. However, this did not hinder Nurhayati’s determination to bring her two-year-old daughter and her mother to visit Bandung.
“I want to go to Pasar Baru to look for cheap textiles,” said Nurhayati who spent three days in Bandung shopping and eating out.
Nurhayati was picked up by a tour guide from a local travel agent. Most Malaysians use the services of travel agents because they feel more secure.
Ahmad Zulkifli and his three friends, on the other hand, came to Bandung from Kuala Lumpur on their own. Zulkifli, 27, said that he had visited Bandung four times prior to this trip for the delicious food and shopping bargains.
“The textiles and garments here are equal to those in Singapore, while the prices are much lower,” said Zulkifli.
Pasar Baru, lines of distros and factory outlets on Jl. Juanda (Dago), Jl. Martadinata (Riau) as well as Jl. Setiabudi are the main places where Malaysian tourists spend most of their money. Jeans outlets also attract these tourists and make them feel at home. Read more here.
This (clip below) looks like another cultural time bomb for Malaysia.Perhaps the Malaysian government should just step aside, shut up and let Indonesia and and Malaysian bloggers set the relationship right.
Malaysian Tourism Minister Tengku Adnan, on the off chance that you even even get debriefed on blogs, please see the posting Now to Rasa Some Sayang (and here too) to see how much Indonesians and Malaysians admire about each others’ countries and peoples. And how much potential goodwill there can be between serumpun countries if only the politicians would take a reality check, get off their high horses, park their egos somewhere the sun don’t shine and stop living in denial.
Also read Bleu, an Indonesian expat living in Indonesia for perspective on serumpun sentiments here.
Interesting to see the different reactions to the Rasa Sayang(e) controversy both in Malaysia (see comments here) and in Indonesia (see comments here). On both sides of the Straits we have nationalism come to the fore, good sense go out the window, fear and loathing of the other.
But what should the real issue be in the Rasa Sayang(e) issue where different countries have many things in common like food, culture and sometimes even history?
Is the issue one of rights or of marketing savvy?
If it is one of rights then Indonesia wins hands down. Rasa Sayang(e), Unspun is willing to bet, almost certainly originated from Maluku, Negara Ku is probably a spinoff from Terang Bulan, Batik was probably developed and refined in Pekalongan long before Malaysia got its hands on it, Orang Utans are more plentiful in Indonesia, Sate Padang was probably being fanned on the fire longer than the satay in Kajang.
If, however, the issue is one of marketing savvy, then Indonesia losses big time to Malaysia. It falls flat in packaging its cultural icons so that they come to be associated with the country. This is nothing new.