Tana Toraja

The highlands of Sulawesi are one of the most beautiful areas in the world that I have ever visited. The region is crisscrossed by thousands of emerald green paddy fields that cover the valley floor and terraced hillsides. Here and there between the fields and forests are hundreds of picturesque small villages and hamlets. The buildings share the same unique architectural characteristics of the region; thatched roofs that curve up at each end like the horns of a buffalo. The sides covered in striking geometric designs painted in black, red and yellow.

Tana Toraja, which is the name given to the region, is also famous for the great coffee that is grown in the soaring highlands. However, it is neither the coffee or the landscape that attracts so many tourists to Tana Toraja, but the funerals and the cemeteries that draw in the crowds.

I knew about the funerals before I arrived in Tana Toraja, but I was still surprised to be invited to one the first time I was approached by a tourist guide. He talked about It in such a casual way, as if he was inviting me to a party. “There’s a funeral on Sunday. Do you want to come along? It will be a good one.” Oh well, that’s okay then I thought. I’d hate to be invited to a bad funeral, that would put a dampener on things.

At this point I should probably fill you in on exactly what to expect from a funeral in Tana Toraja and why they attract so many tourists. In Tana Toraja funerals it is traditional to sacrifice buffalo at a funeral. In Tana Toraja however, a buffalo can cost as much as $40,000 a bull, and with three or four bulls being sacrificed at a time, which makes funerals extremely expensive.

Anyways, I digress, back to the funeral. I have been to a lot of different places over the years, but I have never been to anything quite as strange as this. Let me explain myself; the funeral was not strange; there was a family in grief, a widow crying and the friends of the deceased having hushed conversations. What was really strange were the tourists sitting at the back and taking photos of everything. My advice, if you are planning on visiting Tana Toraja, stick to the beautiful scenery and great coffee and give the funerals a miss.