Wednesday, December 08, 2004

"The Day of a Thousand Pictures II" Sulawesi Travels #5

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Buffalo Market

Albino buffalo - less common, highly prized, more expensive.

Posing with a buffalo

Kid with "kids" - buffalo calves.

It is day three of the photo orgy and it shows no signs of slowing down. The buffalo market was wonderful. All sorts of buffalos proudly displayed by their keepers filled several acres. Trucks hustled here and there to drop off or pick up their quarry. Across the road things were not quite as genteel. The sound emanating from the area indicated that things were not all that nice over in pig land. Pigs are not laid back, content and regal like the water buffaloes but do make for a good barbecue. Due to their rather roguish personality and tastiness they were trussed up by the hundreds waiting to be bought and carried off to become dinner at a funeral feast. They did not like being trussed up or carried or haggled over and communicated this fact by making one of the more horrific sounds existing in the natural world. It was fascinating.

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Trussed Up Pigs

Finally I dragged myself away from the market and was whisked off to a funeral. Interestingly enough foreigners are welcome guests at Torajan funerals and are typically made to feel quite welcome by the host. In turn we bought a carton of smokes, a typical foreign person gift for the host. Several hours and huge amounts of photos later we left the funeral and one of the more interesting events I have ever experience.

Tana Toraja: Funeral Procession - the deceased is in the casket fashioned after the Toraja style of house. 

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Funeral Procession: They had to take off the decorative top of the casket to get it under the electric wires.

The following day we took a walk from the hillside hotel where we spent the night through several villages with houses built in the traditional Torajan architectural style. Our walk ended at another funeral celebration. This one was not in and around the family compound of the deceased like the previous days’ but was in a place set apart specifically for funerals. The seating pavilions surrounded a central area where a bunch of monoliths had been erected representing the dead who had funerals at this place. In the midst of the monoliths was a raised platform/tree house like structure. From its four corners were hanging the legs of a recently slaughtered buffalo. In the middle of the platform was the buffalo head. A guy with an axe went at it for several minutes hacking away the horns which would be added to the others displayed at the family house of the deceased. We hung out and were brought tea and treats and were given a bamboo container full of tuac or palm wine to pass around. Then the daughter of the deceased who was hosting the shindig came and hung out with us for a bit. We gave her the box of smokes and made small talk for a while until the guests of honor were ushered in. This part was premised by four guys lugging in an enormous pig all trussed up and squealing away.

The next day we ventured out to see the rock cliffs where the people are buried. Effigies in the likeness of the deceased are placed outside the tombs on little balconies high up on the cliffs. Many of the effigies were stolen and sold to Dutch tourists long ago. But some originals do remain. A bunch of pictures later we went to an old cave which once served as a burial chamber. It was chok - a - blok full of skulls and really old coffins. My vacation has so far revolved around people in Toraja who have died. That’s rather odd.

Anthropologists say that the Torajan houses are built in their unique shape because they originally came from across the sea. Thus they built their houses in the shape of boats. The Torajans say they have always been in Toraja land and that their houses resemble buffalo horns because they are cool. My Intro to Anthropology teacher in college gave me a B- on a project I worked my butt off on(and actually froze my butt off on - begging in the dead of winter in a commuter burb of Chicago). I'm going with the "because its cool" explanation.

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