8 September 2008
Monday. Makassar, Southern Sulawesi.
Sorry if I’m putting too much detail into this but there is so much to see and take in. You can skim the long bits! Tana Toraja was wonderful. It’s central southern Sulawesi, in the mountains. Very lush and tropical, and rainy – the wet season starts up there in September, so we woke to rain the morning after we arrived. Nice little hotel, but only nine guests including us.
The Torajan ancestors migrated here from Indo China, probably Cambodia, hundreds of years ago. Modern Torajans are mostly Christian these days but the animist/ancestor worship practices of their forebears are still very evident in the frequent funeral ceremonies. We visited two funeral sites. The first had graves chiseled into a high cliff face and bodies placed inside them behind wooden doors. Adjacent to the graves on the cliff face were galleries of effigies called Tau-tau, life size figures of the dead people within. The second site was a limestone cave, with a skull on a rock outside warning of what was inside. The caves were stunning limestone galleries with worn stalagmites and stalactites and smooth white walls and floor. The cool ambience of the cave was somewhat disturbed by the wooden coffins in various states of decay, and skulls and bones stashed in every crevice. A little confronting! Outside this cave were the Tau-tau galleries, amazingly detailed effigies of the people inside, right down to glasses on noses, and – one assumes – familiar expressions on faces! They were colourfully dressed, some seated, some standing, mostly quite elderly. One of them was the spitting image of Bob Hawke!
Buffalo – it felt like seeing old friends from home to see all the buffalo in Tana Toraja. They are a serious part of the funeral ceremonies, and are highly valued. They don’t work in the fields they graze, just laze around getting fat, fighting the odd bull fight (the males), and ending up as the main event at the funerals. They’re almost invariably huge and fat. Where were these guys when I was buffalo catching?
Funerals take up an inordinate (to me) part of Torajan life. According to our guide Rusli, when someone in the family dies, the body is injected with Formalin and wrapped in bandages, and placed in the south room of the house. Torajan houses conveniently align north-south, so it’s not hard to work out where south is. When all the family can get together, and they have gathered enough buffaloes as their status demands, the funeral is held. This can take more than 10 years, so Granny is hanging around in the back room for an awfully long time.
Buffaloes cost a lot of money here, and the black and white spotted ones are the highest priced. The ideal buff is black and white, with a tail that touches the ground. I’ve never seen a buffalo with such a long tail in the NT, so they must have selectively bred for long tails up here. The buffaloes are ritually slaughtered at the funeral with a panga, and the meat shared out amongst the family and the neighbours. It’s the only time buffalo are killed for meat. They figure heavily in the beautiful Torajan carvings, and a carved head with real horns hangs above the front door of every traditional Torajan house. In case you’re interested, the Indonesian word for buffalo is kerbau, and in Torajan, Makassan and Buginese it is Tedong, or Tedonga bonga in the case of the expensive spotted ones.( I warned you there was a lot of detail…)
Vanilla beans! They cost about $7 for one or two in Darwin, and I bought three bags of them for 60,000 rupiah, about $7. A lifetime supply! Also fresh nutmegs, mace, cloves, coriander seed and cinnamon bark. Vanilla was being harvested and dried up in the mountains, and every so often the aroma would fill the car as we passed by a tarpaulin on the side of the road, covered in black drying pods. Cocoa trees were everywhere too, with big fat red pods of beans ready for harvest. Watermelon stalls lined the road in one area, with large striped melons for sale. We stopped the car and bought some, eating one of them on the spot. And feeling very guilty about our driver and guide who were fasting for Ramadhan and not allowed to eat or drink between 6am and 6 pm. Every piece of land seems to be used most of the time. Corn was planted on the sides of hills so steep we wondered how on earth they could be harvested, even by hand. Rice paddies have carp ponds in the centre of them, ensuring that fish and rice will never be off the menu. It’s also rice harvest time here and there were blue plastic tarps on the sides of the road with rice spread out to dry.
It’s now Monday, and Patsy and Richard flew out to Denpasar this morning. We’ll miss them on board – it’s been so good having their company and their help sailing Malaika all this time. The boat already feels very empty without them. But Ali at least will vacate the saloon, and hopefully her mess will be confined to the forward cabin once more!
This morning Lex was picked up by Lothlorien and went with them to the careening poles about 8 km away. Lothlorien has a leaking stern gland which needs replacing, so they’re now tied up to the poles and waiting for the tide to go out properly before they can start work. Once the problem’s sorted we’ll all head for the Kumai River in Kalimantan to see orangutans.
Sulawesi is a fantastic place! I don’t understand why so few Australians come here. The only tourists we’ve come across, and there haven’t been many, are from France, Spain, Holland and Germany. Rusli told us that very few Australians or Americans come to Sulawesi, just European visitors. It’s beautiful, cheap, and has very friendly people, and language is not a barrier. There’s always someone who can speak a little English, and an Indonesian phrase book is useful if there’s not. We’ve learnt enough words to get by in a lot of situations by now. I would definitely come here for a holiday from Darwin, and the same goes for Ternate in north Maluku. Rubbish is a downer of course, but away from the bigger towns it’s not such a problem. In Ternate there was hardly any rubbish at all, apart from the ubiquitous plastic bags in the harbour, and we noticed there were rubbish bins and collection trucks working in the streets, and a recycling facility behind the town. Indonesia will eventually come to terms with rubbish and pollution, but I suspect it has few more pressing developmental problems to deal with first, like education and wages.
That's it for now.
In a sad parallel, while we were investigating funeral practices in Tana Toraja, a very dear friend of mine was being farewelled the same day back in the NT. Duane Fishlock was killed in a helicopter crash the previous week, at Mataranka. Some of the people reading this blog will know Duane, and that he has been a close friend of my family for about 26 years. He worked with us bullcatching in the early days at Bulman, and also up at Melaleuca later on. He and Jane started Sturt Creek Downs, a thousand square mile cattle station between Mataranka and Katherine, several years ago and built it up into a successful business and a great home for themselves and their children, Taylor, Ben and Troy. I feel very sad that I couldn't be at Sturt Creek last week, but Callum and Shaun went down for the memorial gathering so I felt that at least a part of me was there. Lex is also grieving for a good mate - he and Duane got along well and had become good friends. Seeing all those buffalo was quite poignant, and I know Duane would have enjoyed the place. I'll miss him a lot, and I'll miss seeing that huge truck pull up in front of our place and the black hat coming through the door.