Saturday, November 01, 2014Tana Toraja. It was planned and booked before my uncle was admitted to the hospital for the first time. The one going were to be me, mom, my aunt, and brother. As his condition worsen, I did wonder if this was going to happen. Dad was saying that we should cancel the whole thing and there was a point that mom said she and my aunt would have to cancel on this. I understood the situation but I couldn't help feeling slightly sad about it and I thought I'm such a bad person for feeling that way. As the day of the trip coming closer, I was bracing to do the trip only with my brother. I don't know how that would have worked out. Then my uncle died 1 week before the day of the trip. Mom and the family managed to settle his funeral pretty fast and after that she said it's a go. My uncle was buried on a Saturday and we went on the trip on a Thursday. It sounds heartless? Perhaps not, people deal with death differently. My family seems to be the type who think proceeding with normal programming to be the best way to deal with this. My mother stayed longer with my aunt after the funeral to help out but there were relatives who went to work the next day. There are apparently still some tradition being observed like they're doing weekly prayers which I don't know will last how long and mom has been participating in it. We managed to get back in time for mom to participate on the second one this week. I was already back to Singapore so I didn't join in. I didn't manage to see how my aunt is doing. Truth be told, I don't even see much of my dad. I arrived in Jakarta last week Wednesday and by Thursday dawn we're on our way to Makassar. 4 am Jakarta is not all quiet. Seriously it's like Jakarta never sleeps. There were more cars at the road than I expected and the airport was as busy as it was during daylight. I was seriously in awe. Indonesia doesn't strike you as being particularly hardworking, but it's like there are always people working in Jakarta at any hours.
We arrived when it's already dark at our hotel. All were tired. The aunt and mom decided to get a room with 3 beds for us girls and the staff managed to get that for us. Throughout this trip, my brother had been luckily having a room for himself. Dinner was at the hotel and it wasn't amazing. The room was simple and okay, but I don't like the toilet. I sucked it up better because I was there with my mom and aunt, so I didn't feel too devastated. The next day being the early risers that all my family are, we finished breakfast earlier and we walked around our hotel while waiting to set off for the day at 9 am. We could see mountains all around. In fact Toraja is like a highland surrounded by mountains all around. It's not cold there though, in fact it's rather hot. Indonesia itself is having a rather dry hot season right now. There are sawah (paddy fields) surrounding our hotel. We saw water buffaloes in one of the sawah and there were also ducks having their breakfast.
We then met our guide and our first stop was to Londa. We saw a prize winning (from bull fighting) water buffalo there and it is big, beautiful, and black and it cost a whooping 800 million IDR or around 66,225 USD. More on this in my next post. Londa is a cliff where there are coffins being put in the caves and on the cliffs. My auntie didn't want to go in and explore this place which is very strange because she's a strong christian so why did she hesitate? or fear? I am not sure if she's afraid. So it's just me and my brother, with my mom accompanying my aunt. I think my mom would have liked to at least see the cliff up close. This cliff has caves inside it and it's still being used by the Torajans to store the coffins of their loved ones. The Torajans do not bury the deaths, they either put the coffins with the body inside caves, or hang it on the cliffs, or carve storage place inside a big rock. This is the cliffs of Londa overlooking a paddy field. You can't see much details in the picture, but right up to the top there are coffins. It is actually a rather beautiful place.
The royalties get to choose higher places which is the prime estate. It's amazing how they can put the coffins in there. The guide said that they lower it down and there'll be people waiting to push it into the caves on top. The royalties also get to put the tau tau of their family at the balcony. It's very interesting, there were some really old ones which look simple and then there were newer ones (but still old) with more details on the carving and clothing.
Then the guide brought us to explore the caves at the bottom using 2 entrances, on the left and right. He got the help of the worker there with a lantern because the caves are really dark and not lighted up. It's very cramped inside and there were times where we had to duck and bend. Definitely the most challenging caves I have entered, because there isn't actually any walkway and because it's really dark. We saw a French couple who are like my mom's age who didn't use the worker with the lantern, they just used the light from their phone. I don't know if it helped them much and that it's quite daring of them to just explore the inside on their own. I was thinking that my mom really couldn't do this. Inside there were coffins and remains of bones and skulls. I wonder how deep the caves go but I wasn't keen of going deep inside. By the way, if you're wondering, it doesn't smell there. The Torajan do not immediately perform the funeral ceremony for the death. The funeral ceremony requires many animals sacrifice and they need to save up for this. So when someone died, they're preserved with formaldehyde and kept in what they call "rumah adat" which is basically a traditional house designated to house this body which they just call as being sick until they are ready with the funeral ceremony and this can take years.
Since again auntie wasn't interested in seeing the baby graves, it's just me and my brother. The Torajan babies who died before having teeth were buried inside the tree. So the people carve like little spaces inside the tree and put the baby in and then cover it with twigs and such. They look like little windows. The guide said the tree is like the same species of banyan tree and it's chosen because the sap is white like milk and putting the baby inside is like putting the baby in a womb. Over a really long time, the twigs will fall off and the space will be fully sealed and you could only see a faint outline of a rectangle in the tree.
Then we went to lunch. A topic that is more agreeable to my aunt who inquired on the local specialty. The guide took us to a small warung (small roadside eating place) which serve pa' piong (meat cooked inside a burned bamboo) and pork satay. We ordered the pork pa' piong, grilled fish (mom's obsessed with grilled fish), and also the pork satay because I am curious since it's definitely different from my family's pork satay. Everyone seems to be excited about eating pork as if we do not already eat pork almost everyday. It's very refreshing though to see stores openly have BABI written on their signs. Pork serving establishment in Jakarta do not seem to be able to advertise that openly. My mom said even in North Sumatra in areas where there are many Christians, they also couldn't be that open. Honestly, I say everyone should just be able to write BABI in big signs if they are serving pork and if it's halal, go and put big signs too. Fair play for all, no? By the way, most of Torajans are Christians. The one with this unique funeral customs are Christians. In many cultures in Indonesia, Indonesians can reconcile their faiths with ancestral traditions. Even with the muslims, the javanese muslims like the sultanate in Central Java for example still practice tradition which one may feel to be not quite Islamic. Anyway, I didn't like the black looking pork pa' piong because it contains the fat part, under the skin thing which I don't eat unless it's already reduced to become pork rind. The pork satay on the other hand was amazing. My mom was amused because it's big. It reminded me of Turkish chicken kebab because the cut is that big, but this pork satay is still using wood skewers. It was reddish orange because they put chili, so it has a tinge of spiciness. It's unique in that the meat was alternated between the fatty skin part which I don't eat and the lean meat. Too bad we only ordered one and it came later, only after we kinda finished with our meal. We're also given one big glass of Torajan alcoholic drink which I only took a sip because it's not looking appetizing for me, but the rest kinda finished it off :D I would describe the taste to be like cassava tapai water, which is strange. Anyway, from the window of the warung, you can see pretty beautiful sawah which is looking green and a little stream. It's the dry season in Indonesia so many paddy fields are actually empty. In many of them, you can see the cracked mud ground. This one was looking a bit green though.
Last stop for the day was Kete Kesu, another little village with many Tongkonan houses. By the way, in front of each Tongkonan house, there is a rice barn of what we call in Indonesian as lumbung. I think it is used to store other produces other than rice. It's very interesting for me to finally be able to see a lumbung and not be it just a concept that I don't experience. You know it's a lumbung because it's smaller and there's no stairs going into it. In another village, the lady who lives there told me that it's a taboo to leave your lumbung empty. I can understand it can be bad luck. So they always have a little something and though they look run down with plants growing on the roof, the lady told me that rain water does not go into it. My brother managed to got up and see what it's like inside it in one of the villages. The ladder that was used was this one bamboo which have little hole in it for you to put your foot in. Anyway, in Kete Kesu there are another type of burial method like this one where they built this interesting container with an egg like face. There are shelves inside this container and they can put many bodies of the family.
It started to drizzle a bit. So we went into a shop where my mom and aunt shopped quite a lot to the point that the lady dressed them in traditional accessories and sarong and we took picture of it. When the drizzle stopped and they're still shopping, I went up to see more of the coffins by the cliff. Here they kinda hammered wooden stake on the cliff and place the coffin on top of the stakes. The guide lifted one of the coffin and showed it to me. Apparently new body would just be put inside the same coffin, so you see many bones. By the way, I only saw bones never remains that still looked like a body. For the coffins on the stakes some of it was rotting away and the bones would just fall off. It's not a big deal for the people there. They most probably just arrange the fallen skulls and bones on top of any coffin. Kinda too bad that I didn't go up all the way to the top. The stairs were quite easy to walk on. That was day 1. Dinner was at this restaurant that served local cuisine and it involved chicken pa' piong which was better than the pork and another local specialty, babi pamerasan, which is pork which appeared black because it's cooked with buah keluak. For pictures, you can go here. I will try to write day 2 soon.
:) eKa @ 6:21:00 PM •
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