It didn't feel very appropriate handing over 100 cigarettes to the family of the deceased, but we were told that this would be an appropriate gift for attending a funeral. It was greatly appreciated, with smiles all around as we sat cross-legged on the floor drinking the tea we had been offered, and eating the sweets (durian flavoured) and biscuits. This was the reception day, the second day of three, where guests bring gifts and dine at the banquet and socialize. The more important, or should I say "wealthier" guests bring animals for sacrifice, since the Torajans believe that it is important for the deceased to be accompanied by animals into the afterlife. The animals are then cooked and eaten at the banquet. Today is not a good day for the pigs, and tomorrow it will be the buffalo.
Now hang on a minute I hear you say - pigs - isn't this supposed to be a Muslim country? Well yes, but Tana Toraja is a huge Christian area consisting of dozens of miles of white churches. But what makes it really unique are the wooden houses built in the shape of a ship, or buffalo horns as some prefer. Everyone goes to church on a Sunday, but they still use ancient ceremonies for births, weddings, and particularly funerals - hence our interest.
We watched the funeral dances and the processions of guests arriving. Now if the sacrifices are not gruesome enough, what about the fact that this funeral was actually for a man that died four years ago and has been lying in the living room wrapped in cloth ever since. In that time, which is necessary for the family to save for the funeral and build the huge Torajan style coffin, people have to greet the deceased when they enter the house, and ask his permission to leave. So, until now, he has been treated as if he were still alive.
But wait. It gets odder still...
We left the funeral before the sacrifices, and went off to see where the coffins end up - not because of some morbid obsession, but because of another interesting local tradition. The coffins go into a cave for safekeeping, but the wealthier people go a step further and have a tau-tau made, which is a painted wooden life-size effigy that stands on a shelf above the cave. They are very life-like, and one man even has a bag hanging from his hand with a fish in it, since keeping fish was his passion in life - all very strange but fascinating. Wandering though these caves was the closest I have ever felt to being in an Indiana Jones movie. The coffins are up to 700 years old, and each one is used for a single family - at least that's what the poorer people get. So after the wood has rotted away, or hanging coffins fall from the cliffs, the skulls and bones are placed neatly onto the floor, or natural shelves in the rocks - a very spooky place.
Enough death for now then, but I will warn people before looking at any photos of this country that they take no prisoners when it comes to animal welfare here. The many vegetarian travellers who love India would be shocked here - this country is almost its antithesis. I'm expecting to be shocked myself, but I try to observe and understand rather than to judge. After all it's a bit hypocritical to applaud the fact that so many ancient traditions and lifestyles survive here, and then condemn for the acts that we find distasteful. Let's see how I feel after I've seen more of it.
Tana Toraja is a beautiful area. Spiky mountains abound, covered with lush greenery and Torajan villages. I've been hiking through the rice fields for the last two days with an Italian couple and our guide called Jacob. It is quite hot, but the weather is still changeable, so the higher mountains are cloaked in mist, and we get regular thunderstorms each evening. Last night was the first dry one, which I spent in a Torajan house well away from the roads; and from here people rarely venture into town at all. I drank palm wine with some local men, watched Indonesian soap operas with the family, and was mesmerized by the fireflies flitting through the trees at dusk. The locals won't go near these trees, as they believe there must be a living god in there.
Food is good, but is a bit basic at times. Gado gado is a staple dish of chicken in spicy peanut sauce (a bit like satay), egg, rice and vegetables. They also have goldfish (which is really carp), many stuffed bamboo dishes that have to be ordered two hours in advance, and baku (meatballs in soup) is also popular. On the table there is always chilli sauce and kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) for added interest.