A trip to Tana Toraja is not complete without visiting the various unique burial sites located throughout the area. This is admittedly a little bit grim and morbid, but very fascinating nonetheless. Early in the morning, we set out to explore this region and our first visit was to the small town of Lemo, which is located approximately 10 kilometers south of the city of Rantepao. Lemo is one of the most famous and most visited burial sites in Tana Toraja and Sulawesi. So, visiting the place, you will not be the only traveler there, but luckily it never became annoyingly crowded. And that is fine. The people who visit Tana Toraja share a fascination and interest in culture and history.
The burial sites in Lemo are surrounded by bone-dry rice fields and cracked earth. We travelled there during the height of the dry season, which meant that a lot of rice fields were arid. I assume these views are even more beautiful during the rainy season, when the rice fields are all in lush green colours.
Walking up to the rocky cliff places you face to face with numerous tombs carved in the soft limestone. They almost resemble a beehive of some sorts. Mostly, a tomb is constructed for a whole family or community. Therefore, one tomb may contain many bodies and after someone passes away, he or she is laid to rest with their family. The main cliffside has many realistic looking wooden effigies, which are called tau tau, hanging high along the side of the wall and are representing deceased family and community members. Unfortunately, over the decades, many tau tau have been stolen by thieves and tomb raiders and sold illegally to collectors all over the world. So, nowadays these tau tau are guarded to the best of the people’s ability.
There is a pathway that leads along the rocky cliff and various other graves. Among these graves, you can witness the trail of liquids that escape the body after death and which have trickled down from the tomb and eroded the rock beneath. Afterwards, you have to walk down some wobbly stairs and you will end up at a few interesting shops selling frighteningly realistic-looking replica tau tau dolls. These dolls are so well-made and lifelike, it was very exciting.