Unique Toraja “funeral tourism”

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Londa Caves
Londa Caves. Photo: Nurvita Indarini

IO – What do people usually find interesting when they visit a public cemetery? People typically seek out graves of people they once dearly loved. However, in South Sulawesi, Torajan graves are quite distinctive. The Land of the Heavenly Kings would instead offer funeral expeditions for tourists. Dare yourself to join the trip!

Tana Toraja is famous for its burial sites, carved into rocky cliffs and boulders, a destination not only for domestic tourists, but also highly
fascinating for foreign visitors. Toraja is phenomenal known for its funeral rites, social events, held so lavishly, like a celebration, attended by hundreds of people and hosting feasts full of delicious food.

The tour of the crypts will give you a different sensation if you visit Tana Toraja. Interestingly, you would be enveloped by the ghostly atmosphere and shades of mystery, gazing at the carved rock tombs. All is to remind the living how life itself is momentary.

Rocky-cliff gravesites
Funeral sites suspended on a rocky cliff are common for the people of Toraja. Tourists can spot tombs on the Lemo limestone hill in Lemo Village, North Makale District, Tana Toraja Regency, South Sulawesi Province. The Torajan people believe that the higher the tombs, the better the opportunity for the deceased to reach heaven.

Graves on cliff walls
Graves on cliff walls attracting the tourists’ attention. Photo: Nurvita Indarini

In the Lemo limestone hill, tourists can see box-shaped tomb pits and rows of tau tau, wooden human figures as the symbol of the dead, made with features similar to those of the deceased. The tau tau effigies wear clothes, jewelry, and hair that belonged to the deceased.

The grave on the rocky hill of Lemo is one of the oldest gravesites in Toraja. Reputedly, the grave was constructed around the 16th century. Most tau tau are old-fashioned, different from the new version of tau tau with a more detailed face shape.

Scattered Skeletons in Londa Cave
Not far from the hanging graves hide natural caves for the burial of hundreds of years old relatives. Londa’s burial caves are among the more popular tourist destinations in North Toraja. Visiting tourists will be approached by the local community and tour guides offering lanterns to light the way.

Once you step into the cave, scattered coffins, skeletons and bones of the dead will be the main view inside. Coffins are simply left here and there, with some put in the cave’s cavities. Planks of retaining wood are inserted under and between the coffins to prevent the coffins from falling. Clothes, cigarettes, and bottles of drinks are found around the coffins. Objects found in the cave show that the living people of Toraja still treat the deceased with the same respect.

As in other gravesites in Toraja, visitors would find rows of tau tau with detailed features.

Tongkonan houses at Ke’te Kesu
Tongkonan houses at Ke’te Kesu. Photo: Nurvita Indarini


Exotic Ke’te Kesu
Another burial site as a tourist destination in Toraja is Ke’te Kesu. Visitors will be presented with views of Tongkonan, the traditional Toraja house. Eight Tongkonan houses stand on wooden piles, lined up neatly and facing each other. Majestic yet ancient-looking Tongkonan is a popular spot for tourists to take pictures.

Ke’te Kesu is a cliff site with 700-year-old ancient tombs with the tau tau seen outside, but instead of carving tombs into the rock, coffins are placed on platforms suspended from the overhanging stone. The reasoning behind this practice is to prevent thieves from stealing precious items from the dead.

The people of Ke’te Kesu are known as skillful craftsmen; visitors can bring home the local crafts sold in the souvenir shops around Ke’te Kesu, namely bracelets, wall decorations, coasters, a tau tau, and traditional weapons.

Years have passed, life has become more modern, but the culture and traditions of Toraja are still well preserved besides its fresh mountain air and incredible views of the surrounding hills. Toraja’s unique culture and tourism will always draw appealing attractions. Are you geared up to explore Toraja? (Nur)