Observe Tana Toraja’s ancient burial ritualsSulawesi, Indonesia
The snaking road winds upwards from the coastal city of Palopo to Tana Toraja. Travellers pass thatch-roof villages and skirt terraced rice paddies cutting a swathe through plantations into the mountainous Sulawesi highlands.
Upon reaching Tana Toraja, soaring saddleback rooflines reach skywards like the bow of an Indonesian sailing ship. These striking traditional Tongkonan houses, along with their smaller rice barn siblings, are central to the Torajan people who remained isolated from the outside world until Dutch missionaries arrived in the 1920s. From birth, through love and marriage to their final resting rites, these Tongkonan houses are key to familial and ancestral relationships.
Witnessing the elaborate funeral rituals of the ‘uplands’ Toraja people, where death trumps life and the deceased are revered, is one of the attractions on an overnight excursion from expedition ship Coral Adventurer during the In the Wake of the Makassans cruise.
At Kete Kesu, a 400-year-old village and living museum, travellers wander beneath burial cliffs where tombs are carved from boulders and infants were once entombed in trees. Painted eyes peer out from the faces of timber Tau-tau effigies eerily keeping watch over hanging burial sites.
Slaves, firearms and coffee were once heavily traded at bustling nearby markets. Not these days, though. Expect to see buffalo and pigs being traded since both are highly sought-after commodities for ceremonies and rituals.
Check Coral Expeditions website for flight details.
In the Wake of the Makassans is a 14-night cruise that travels from Darwin through the straits of the Indonesian archipelago to Makassar (and in the opposite direction).