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Traverse through Toraja in Central Sulawesi

November 12, 2019 by Khiri Travel | Filed Under: , ,

Toraja, in the central highlands of Sulawesi, is a series of ten traditional settlements. The villages are known for their traditional houses called Tongkonan. These architectural wonders, with a massive peaked-roof, are more than just a roof over your head: they represent the feminine and masculine forces that nurture the family. Each house is complimented with an Alang, a rice storage silo: with larger houses having animal pens, a water well, and family burial plots.

Homes are designed to be self-sufficient and to foster a close-knit family unit. The word Toraja comes from the Buginese language term to riaja, meaning “people of the uplands”. With their limited resources in such a remote environment, families worked in harmony with the land and each other to survive for centuries. This indigenous way of life has led to a nomination by UNESCO.

The Ke’te Kesu’ village is the oldest and largest village with six Tongkonan houses that were built 300 years ago, but the burial site has relics that are over 500 years old. We recommend climbing the path behind the houses to the elaborately decorated Tau Tau, Toraja wooden effigies before entering the burial site. 

The Dutch colonial government recognized the Toraja people in 1909. Torajans believe that a balance between nature, humans, and animals is crucial. As a result, their elaborate funeral ceremonies and burial sites were believed to return people to nature. In Londa, their cemeteries were carved into two caves. Visitors can grab a torch or oil lamp and explore the burial sites. Their colorful wood effigies and caskets line the insides of the cave. Toraja funeral rites are important social events, traditionally attended by everyone in the village and lasting for several days.

The Toraja remained isolated for a longer period of time, compared to the Bugis or Makassar in the Sulawesi lowlands, due to their self-sufficiency. Their food reflects this philosophy: nothing is wasted from the coconut palm tree. The coconut is grated into their food; syrup turned into liquor; while the leaves are used to wrap their food. While at the local village market, you must try Pa’Piong: it’s grilled meat and coconut in a bamboo carafe over an open flame, it should not be missed in Toraja. At Bolu Market, we also recommend trying the local Palm Wine, Ballo. This traditional drink is usually served during funerals and festivals: Torajan festivals are normally held from June to December.

Walking through the villages, you will see houses decorated with intricately carved patterns and columns of water buffalo horns. The Toraja still maintain a deep respect for their land and natural surroundings to this day. We recommend hiking through Batutumonga, where the forests and rice paddies meet. In the early morning, the sun rises above the clouds and shines on the lush highlands for a spectacular view.

Aside from hiking and seeing the Toraja villages, the region has some of the best white water rafting in Indonesia. The Sa’dan and Mai’ting rivers cut through the rolling hills and lush countryside: it’s the perfect mix of adrenaline and evergreen nature.

Toraja is an off-the-beaten-track destination that should not be missed. Travel back into time as you walk through the beautifully preserved traditional homes. Learn about their local cultures and traditions and discover the Tallu Lolona philosophy of the Torajan people. As you feel their connection between land, animals, and people; experience the magic of the Sulawesi highlands. If you have any questions about the Toraja region in Sulawesi, or any other activities in Indonesia, please feel free to contact [email protected].

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