Tana Toraja (Tator) is a unique travel destination, located in the South of Sulawesi, Indonesia. It is about 8 hours driving from Makassar airport. This mountainous region saw its touristic attendance increased in the early 2000s after the Bali bombing. Until today, Tator remains an alternative holiday destination, original, less crowded with magnificent landscapes. We had the chance to visit from July 19th to 21st, 2015.
Toraja comes from the word “to riaja” in Bugis language means people of the Highland. The majority of the indigenous is Christians, and the remaining are Muslims and Animist belief. The climate is cooler than Bali (obviously, we are in the mountains!) a pull-over is more than appreciated during early morning and evening.
Rantepao is both a city and capital of the north part of Toraja, well known as a cultural center for the Torajans. Since the area opened for tourism in 1970, Rantepao is the center point of all the touristic activities in the region.
We started our journey in the city of Barru, a few 200 kilometers south of Rantepao.
Day 1: Barru –> Ke’te’ Kesu’
We are leaving Barru, a small city two hours north of Makasar, around 9:00 A.M.
There are around 200 kilometers from our next destination, with the road is tiny, bumpy and full of holes. Six hours and a few toilet stops later, we finally arrive in Kabupaten North Toraja in the afternoon.
After having lunch, we decide to visit the small village of Ke’te’ Kesu’, just a few kilometers away. We arrived there around 16:00 P.M. and it was packed with a lot of tourists. The parking is not well maintained and the access roadway too small to allow a 2-ways circulation. We spent more time trying to access the site and park than the actual visit.
The village of Ke’te’ Kesu’ (said to be over 400 years old) is still in exquisite conditions. Traditional houses called Tongkonan are arranged in a row and opposite of each Tongkonan is a rice barn with a similar model but smaller.
The typical architecture of the area can be observed: the roof of the houses is made with straw-like material and looks like a boat-shaped. Buffalo’s heads are displayed in front of the houses. If you see a shape of chicken head next to the buffalo head, it means that is the house of the community leader. There is one museum in one on these Tongkonan, but this time we are too late since it closed when we are there.
The central village path ends with a gift shop proposing ethnic wooden crafts for a very affordable price. We bought some small trays with traditional motifs. Most crafts are red, yellow and black colored.
If you continue to the back of Tongkonan, you will reach a small cave. Prior to this cave, bones and decorations are disposed on the sides of the path, as well as stalls that propose tees, bracelet, knives, and other wooden crafts.
The mortuary cave is full of bones and skulls, but nothing breathtaking. You will have to use some lighting equipment to know where you are actually going (any smartphone will do the trick).
Ke’te’ Kesu’ village is a nice “mise en bouche” of the local culture, with its typical architecture and wooden crafts. Surrounded by rice fields, the place has beautiful colors at sunset. The difficult access is the main negative point, as well as the persistent request of pictures if you are a “bule” (foreigner).
Day 2: Palawa –> Batutumonga –> Lo’ko’ Mata –> Bori –> Londa
We had difficulties in locating ourselves the first day due to the small indications for the different places to visit. To fully enjoy our journey, we decided to hire a guide for the day. My former office has a new project in here, so we get a recommendation from them about this guide. His name is Mr. Lisa, originally from North of Toraja.
We left the hotel around 9.00 AM. Our first destination was Palawa, an ancient local village located in the mountains. The place is quite remote and difficult to access, as a consequence, the location if tourists free! We arrived there around 09.30 AM. You don’t need to pay an entrance fee to visit the village, but a donation of 10,000 IDR per person is appropriate.
The villagers are not talking much, but you will be able to visit the interior of their houses if you ask them. The houses are elevated from the ground by a few meters, you can reach the main room of the houses (inside) by the stairs in the front of the house. The inside is pretty small and includes a place to sleep (matrass) as well as a place to cook and another emplacement where are disposed wooden crafts (for you to buy, not just as a decoration). Their houses are not larger than a few square meters.
We continue our journey to Batutumonga, where we enjoy the breathtaking scenery. Along the way, we can find coffee plantation, and since we have not tried the famous Toraja coffee, so we decided to have a break. There is one restaurant called Mentirotiku in Batutumonga where we can sip our coffee and eat fried banana with overlooking to rice fields.
We continued our exploration of the region of Toraja by visiting Lo’ko’ Mata in Lembang Tonga Riu. This emplacement is typical of the area of Toraja. Large rocks have been worked and crafted in order to put dead people(s) inside. Each emplacement belongs to a family and is decorated accordingly (flowers, frames, paintings, sculptures).
There are a lot of legends and stories about dead peoples in Toraja. A significant importance is accorded to the funeral, and death in general, but not in a negative way. As a celebration, it is an occasion to gather and meet with all the members of the family during one or a series of events.
Unfortunately, we could not attend a funeral ceremony (Rambu Solo) and it will only be a better reason to justify another trip to Toraja. Instead, we visited another village with mor(e)tuary tombs and caves. It waskull !
There are so many things to explore and discover in Toraja. In two days, we just had a glimpse of this very different culture, region and peoples. The tourist activity is still at an early stage, which is both an advantage and a drawback. The streets/roads are still in poor conditions which make every destination difficult to access and time consuming, but in the same time, there are not “too many” tourists (yet). Quiet and peaceful, with charming local peoples, Toraja is a really nice place to get lost into.
Two days are not enough in Tana Toraja, we definitely need to return and explore more.