Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Adventures on Special K Island

If you look at a map of Indonesia, you will notice a large island in the shape of the letter K in the northeast of the country. This is Sulawesi. We started at the bottom of the left leg and worked our way to the north, transversing that large bay created between the right arm and right leg of the K. My only regret is that we didn't give ourselves more time on this beautiful and friendly island. We met many smart travelers that devoted their entire 3 and 4 week trips to Sulawesi.

When you visit Sulawesi you may go to a fascinating region of Toraja. Here Torajans live in strange boat-shaped houses that face north to remind them that their ancestors came from the north on boats. By day, Torajans farm coffee and rice, and by evening the rhythmic pounding of rice could be mistaken for drums echoing across vast valleys of rice paddies. If you are one of the lucky visitors to Toraja you may get to observe a funeral. Funerals are elaborate parties attended by -literally- truckloads of family and friends and neighbors who descend on villages. Torajans believe that a proper funeral is needed for the deceased to navigate through the various challenges of the afterlife. Torajans believe that their deceased ancestors will have to face many challenges as they travel through the afterlife. A proper funeral is needed support them on their journy.
A crucial element of the funeral is the buffalo sacrifice. Families may save up for two years before they can afford the water buffalos needed for a sacrifice ( the decease

d bodies are kept in the home in the meantime). Once you see one of these large and gentle creatures fall to their knees, blood spurting from the neck, you may feel a sense of relief. That was it; the buffalo sacrifice is over. But no, a good Torajan funeral needs 24 sacrifices. Those other buffalo standing around, obliviously batting their eyelashes- they are next. Lucky you, you get to see 23 more sacrifices.

When you are at a Torajan funeral, you should wear black and bring a case of clove cigarettes as a gift. Another pointer is not to stand too close to the sacrifices. While some sacrifices go well (the animal falls peacfully to the ground), sometimes the buffalo flails and thrashes for sometime before collapsing. You don't want buffalo blood on your one pair of pants.

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