Indonesia and its entirety of 17, 508 islands offer a wide range of natural and cultural resources worth visiting and savouring. Once Java and Bali have been explored, you should venture out to other enchanting places such as Rantepao, in the heart of Tana Toraja in Sulawesi. Read on for some interesting, immersive experiences to be found in these mountains.
Many people don’t know about the delicious dishes that the Torajans have. Their lush lands produce plenty of herbs and spices used in pantollo pammarasan, for example. This black-coloured stew has thick sauce, although it is similar in flavour and colour to East Java's rawon dish. Pantollo pammarasan can include chicken, pork, freshwater fish, eel, buffalo, prawns or jerked meat, all sprinkled with chives and paired with sago, corn or rice, and vegetables. Pa'piong is another signature dish featuring pork, chicken, fish, or buffalo wrapped in miana leaves together with spices. Next, eight or 10 pa'piong packets are inserted in a bamboo rod, sealed shut and then barbecued on an open fire until the bamboo chars.
Even though the buffalos eventually end up on the menu, they also have other purposes in Torajan culture. Buffalos, or tedong in the Toraja lands, are sturdier and possess longer horns than those from other islands. They symbolise prestige and wealth as classified by colour combinations or horn type—the best ones, tedong bonga, can even fetch a price up to Rp1bn! The prestige, however, can also be attained by winning against another buffalo in a fight. Although the fight itself is less bloody than a bullfight, caution is still a priority when watching. The animals are understandably not so keen about clashing and goring each other, and the chase between winning and losing buffalos that follows usually scatters people in fear.
Home Sweet Home
Given that the buffalo is truly embedded in Torajan culture, mounted horns or wooden heads adorn the traditional tongkonan houses to mark the owner's class and prestige. The boat-shaped roofs with oversised saddlebacks are different depending on the use for the government, rich nobles and ordinary nobles—commoners live in smaller and less-decorated banua. Inside the house, however, it is cramped with few windows as the main purposes are for sleeping, storage and meetings. A large Tana Toraja village boasts a magnificent row of tongkonan facing north to south, according to Torajan cosmology. To build this stilted house, it normally takes 10 people three months to construct and another month to carve the outside.
Speaking of carved woods, more carving on the tongkonan means higher status and wealth. Colours have different meanings derived from the aluk to dolo (the way of the ancestors) and are made with natural ingredients, which are red, which symbolises human life, and yellow, which symbolises the Creator's power and blessing, black, which represents death and darkness, and white, which means purity. Meanwhile, tuak, or palm wine, is used to strengthen the colours. Recurrent motifs include circular suns to represent power, golden kris daggers that signify wealth, buffalo heads that show prosperity and ritual sacrifice, water is life and fertility, and cockerels are symbols of the indigenous religion.
Above the Clouds
Batutumonga is one of many places to view interesting burial methods. Those who are not that interested in this kind of adventure can still enjoy a garden of menhirs on the front part of nearby Bori Parinding cemetery. These upright, carved stones serve as a place to tie sacrificial animals before rambu solo burial rituals. Venture deeper to see the vast stone graves for adults and tree graves for babies. Sunset and sunrise views from vantage points in Batutumonga at the foot of Sesean Mountain—the highest in Tana Toraja—are also sights to behold. The Sidenreng Bugis people named the Torajans after "to riaja", which means they who live on the land above—as apt as the sunrise view from Batutumonga of tongkonan roofs seen amid golden clouds, carpeted with green fields and back-dropped by the high mountains behind.