The island of Sulawesi in Indonesia is an extensive, rugged, remote, and mysterious place. Deep within the central highlands of the islands lives an indigenous ethnic group of people called the Toraja. They are known for their intricate and festive funeral rituals, their unique burial sites carved in rocky cliffs, their massive peaked-roof traditional houses known as tongkonan, their colorful woodworks, and their world-famous delicious coffee. This is one of the remotest places I’ve visited in the world and I loved it. It was fantastic.
The Road to Tana Toraja
Getting to Tana Toraja requires some effort. From Makassar a car ride to Tana Toraja takes a solid 8 to 9 hours. In our case, it was no problem really as the countryside is absolutely fascinating and beautiful. And luckily there were no traffic jams. The ride takes you along a newly constructed and hot sun-kissed coastline, through various interesting towns (among which is Parepare, the home of the ex-president of Indonesia, Jusuf Habibie), streets filled with people selling watermelons and other fresh produce and fruit, and spectacular mountainous areas. You will see many different natural settings during this ride and perhaps all the various landscapes that Sulawesi offers the visitors.
Tana Toraja is great. The people there are amazingly friendly and we encountered smiles and were welcomed everywhere we went. And their culture is unique in the world. Most famous are their burial ceremonies that are derived from their animistic past. Even though most of the Toraja people have converted to Christianity, they still practice these mystic ancient rituals to this day. Bodies of deceased family members are kept in houses until they are finally buried in a small tomb in the rocks, or in a coffin in their kampung (community). Indeed, part of the allure of Tana Toraja is the relationship with the afterlife. For some, the focus on death and passing away can become somewhat morbid, but it’s fascinating either way and something that is hard to avoid while visiting this area. So, be prepared and study your trip a little bit ahead of time.
Besides the culture and the people, the land of Toraja is stunning as well. Parts of the forested land have not changed much in the last 100 years. Spectacular green rice fields, lush tropical forests, and the occasional traditional Toraja Tongkonan house still the landscapes in this area. The land of Toraja combines the lushness of the tropics with the freshness of elevated mountains. The altitude and coolness of the atmosphere make this a very comfortable place to travel around in.
For those who enjoy a good cup of coffee, Toraja offers that too. Arguably one of the best coffee on the planet, this tasty beverage is available pretty much everywhere, and in my opinion really worthy of their reputation.
In various posts I will delve further into some aspects of the Toraja culture and area, their unique burial sites, and other adventurous activities that can be performed in that area.