Tana Toraja (Sulawesi) - December 2009


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The first time I traveled to Sulawesi was in the summer 1972. I had been attracted by the strange shape of the island and the fact that at that time it sounded very remote to me. During that trip I trekked from Mamasa (located North of the small coastal town of Polewali) to Rantepao, around Rantepao, and finally from Rantepao to Palopo on the Bone Bay. I returned to Sulawesi 22 years later in June 1994, following a trip to Irian Jaya (now Papua). During this second trip, I first flew to Palu on the central West coast of Sulawesi, where I took a bus to Gimpu. From Gimpu, I trekked to the Bada valley (famous for its megaliths) and from there to the main road near Masamba. I returned again to Sulawesi in December 2009 for a shorter trip, during which I spent a week trekking North of Rantepao. For this trek I hired a local guide in Rantepao, named Luther.


Map sketch: the trek itinerary is in red dotted line; the green stars mark the places where we camped; the black dots indicate villages.



I arrived in Rantepao around 7am after a flight from Singapore to Makassar and a full night in the bus from Makassar to Rantepao. As is rather usual in Tana Toraja, I was immediately taken to a funeral ritual where a dozen buffalos were killed. In the summer 1972, I had seen a much bigger funeral. Nevertheless, it was quite a cultural change from the tamed atmosphere of Singapore that I had left less than 24 hours earlier.





Stone-carved burial site of Lemo. The statues (called Tau Tau) are the effigies of the deceased.



Burial site of Londa.






At the start of the trek near Rantepao.



Buffalos enjoying a mud bath.


Seen along the way: cocoa pod, bamboo forest, and mushroom.


View of mountains surrounding Rantepao.


Water pipe.


Beautiful rice fields in the highlands.



In the village where we spent our first night. We reached it just when it started raining. Local people were extremely friendly.



Typical decorations -- paintings and carvings -- of Taraji tongkonans (traditional houses), derived from animal and plant motifs. The buffalo head mounted on the facade of the tongkonan in the first picture below is made of painted wood and real horns.



Buffalo horns stacked against a tongkonan are a sign of prestige.


Early next morning after the heavy rain that had fallen most of the night...


...the air and the ground were filled with white-winged insects...


...that a woman was harvesting and eating alive. They seemed to be a real delicacy.


Salu Sangpiak.


Bridges over Salu Sangpiak and other rivers.



Relaxing scenery between the villages of Pallili and Bubuk.




Two stone-carved burial sites along the way.



In Bubuk, the last village that we crossed before entering a long stretch of dense forest (about three hours before our camp #3). Left: rare old tongkonan with a traditionally tiled roof. Center: close-up of the buffalo head and stack of buffalo horns mounted on the front pillar of the same house. Right: paintings on another old house.


Small, but noisy windmills made by children, above the village of Bubuk.


View from the hill that we climbed after leaving Bubuk.


Soon we entered an area of dense forest that we would exit two days later when we reached the village of Parada.


Views of the forest.



Our dinner at camp #3 was based on products of the forest: fern shoots and mushrooms (the latter selected by Luther).


Monkey skull.


In the forest.






We saw several such traps placed by village people to catch small animals.


The hut in which we spent our 4th night.



Reaching the village of Parada.


Man and woman near Parada.


Cluster of houses near Kalo.


Burial site with many graves in a single gigantic boulder, between Kalo and Batutumonga.


Close-up of the grave decorated with a buffalo head.


Sunrise seen from Batutumonga.



Rice fields below Batutumonga. Rantepao lies below the clouds.


Landscape below Batutumonga.


Megaliths in a village between Butumonga and Rantepao.


Rock formation a few kilometers North of Rantepao.



Finally, yet another buffalo taking a mud bath.



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