3 September 2008
It took 8 hours to drive up to Tana Toraja, and several years off our lives. Driving in Sulawesi is something to be experienced. Or not, if your nerves are fragile. There seem to be no road rules in Indonesia, apart from ‘give way to anyone in front of you when a head on collision is all but inevitable’, and ‘anyone behind you looks out for themselves.’ It was an education! Our driver Herman, was terrific, and once we got used to the driving conditions, relaxed and had complete faith in his abilities. However it took a while before I relaxed completely about overtaking on blind corners and up the crests of hills. Or overtaking a truck, and having someone else overtake us at the same time, 3 abreast, while a poor motorbike rider managed to scrape by in the opposite direction on the remaining 3 inches of road. What was more amazing was the total lack of anger or road rage – under conditions that would have had the most laidback of Australian motorists out dueling with the tyre levers.
Our guide, Rusli Amin, was a goldmine of information. His English was excellent and he talked to us almost the entire way about what we were seeing and about Sulawesi ethnicities, politics, culture and religions. He took us inside a typical Buginese house, where a 25 yr old single woman lived. It felt a bit odd to be invading her house like that but she received some payment so I guess she didn’t mind too much. She went on folding clothes while Rusli explained the layout of the house, the rice storage, the kitchen (the cooking facilities were wonderful – an ancient clay stove for heating pots, and an old kerosene stove side by side) and the chickens below. It was basically a large single room, with areas partitioned off for bedroom, kitchen and sitting room. Very little furniture, but a large bed where her aunt and niece would sleep with her at night so she wasn’t alone. Her parents were both dead and she had no siblings, and at 25 was almost considered a spinster, although Rusli did say that a lot of Buginese were marrying later these days.
A little further on we stopped by a house to look at dried fish production, and ended up being invited inside to look at wedding photos. The daughter of the house, a vivacious young woman named Hasriah, stepped out of the front room while were being shown the bagged rice harvest on the verandah, saw Ali and said ‘Beautiful!’ One thing led to another as they do, and we were taken inside and the album brought out so we could see what a traditional Buginese wedding looked like. The bride dresses in several different traditional outfits for the photos, and has her face whitened with a kind of clay. It was all very colourful and elaborate, with a Chinese influence. We met her mother, and younger brother and sister, but her new husband, a primary school teacher, was at work.
It was interesting to see that Buginese Muslim women rarely wear the veil, except at mosque. They still tend to cover shoulders (with short sleeves) but otherwise are ‘not very fundamentalist’ as our guide put it. We haven’t seen much evidence of fundamentalism, if it’s judged by women wearing chador or burkhas, anywhere we’ve been so far. Plenty of veils and fashionable Muslim dress, but tight jeans and a head-and-shoulders veil seems the norm for young women. Ali and I are careful about our dress, in that we don’t wear tops that bare shoulders and chest area, or shorts above the knee, (and we try to remember not to eat with our left hand when we’re in a Halal restaurant!) but everyone seems pretty relaxed about rules generally. It’s also Ramadhan, so people are more observant of Islamic laws than usual and attend mosque and pray more regularly, our guide told us, but after that they’ll slip back into more casual observance. A lot like Christians at home I guess. Turn out for Christmas and Easter but tune out after that.