November 24th 1983

posted in: The way back | 0

Once again we had received vague information about a ceremony taking place, this time at a village near Sa’dan,  but nobody else seemed to be able to verify this, + it seemed a long way to go on the off chance, so we decided to give it a miss, + elected instead to visit some of the villages between Rantepao and Makale, the capital of Tana Toraja, 17 kms south.  We caught the bemo to Lemo, a cheap ride, presumably because the main road is in good condition – it’s the only one in the area which is.  From the road it’s just a short walk to where they have rows of effigies of the dead, standing in holes in the cliff-face for all the world like spectators in a grandstand, 2 or 3 dozen of them.  That, however, for all we know, is all there is of Lemo, so we soon had that ticked off, + walked back along the main road to the next village, Loden.  This involved a 2 km gentle climb, with good views, to some caves, containing more burial sites – since the Torajans load their dead with material possessions to take with them, they have a correspondingly difficult time with grave-robbers, so have been forced to resort to all sorts of methods of keeping them out. 

When we arrived at the site tho’, we were in for a shock.  Our Yellow Guide advises us to keep some loose coins for the kids with lamps who show you around.  This has now changed, + there is a fee of R2000 per person entrance fee, plus R500 for the lamp, + tho’ the young guide was prepared to bargain, he wouldn’t come down sufficiently to suit Val, who was determined not to be ripped off.  So we didn’t get to see the caves.  I was pissed off: at the guides (not content with robbing the dead, they’re now robbing the living); at Val, for her self-righteous inflexibility; + at myself, for not pushing myself into going – at one stage, Val + I agreed that just I should see the caves, + save money,  but the guide had lost interest in us by now, + had walked off.  So we walked away, hoping he would follow us.  When he didn’t, we could scarcely turn back.  So I was  not very good company for a while, brooding in silence, + only gradually regaining some humour.

We started to walk back to Rantepao by a slightly longer route, crossing the river by a rickety old wooden bridge, + taking a more or less parallel but less direct road.  We took a little diversion into the paddy-fields to take a couple of pictures – a boy was winnowing the rice while his mother looked on – they were both very nice, and we gave them what every kid + quite a few of the adults round here ask for incessantly – gula gula, or sweets.  Then, heading for home, we happened to pass a shop just as a bemo laden with people arrived + stopped there, + the driver asked if we were going to the ceremony.  It was a little late, we thought, being 2 or so in the afternoon, but it looked like being a different sort of affair from the one at Keti, so we were game to try.

For a while, tho’, nothing happened.  The bemo discharged its load + drove off, while all the people made themselves comfortable for a while.  If it hadn’t been for the trussed pig, I would have thought we had been misled.  However, just when we were about to give up + set off once more for town, everybody began to move, so we tagged along at the end of the procession.  It wasn’t a long walk, just a few hundred metres across the fields, + then a climb up to a small village nestling on the side of a hill.  We were made more than welcome, first by a man who, we discovered, was a teacher (in fact, he turned out to be the Headmaster of Rantepao’s largest secondary school) + then by other members of the village.

A very strange lady took our hands + gave us a brief instruction in the movements  of the dance which would be taking place that night, + then we were shown to one of the pavilions especially built for the ceremony, + invited to sit down.  It was very nice to be treated rather as a welcome guest than an unwarranted intruder.  We were given coffee, cake, + biscuits, + later buffalo meat, rice + tuak.  The tuak as nice, better than before, but the rest of the meal was  not much to my taste, since the meat was very stringy + tough (hardly surprising when the beast had only been killed this morning – his head was still lying in the middle of the arena) + the rice was plain boiled, + having been doused with the gravy from the meat, very fatty.  Especially when it cooled down, it left the whole mouth coated with grease.  Ugh.

We were invited to stay for the dancing in the evening as well, but as that would have meant staying the night, + we only had thin clothes with us, we decided to decline.  On reflection, I am sure we chose unwisely – we are most unlikely to have the opportunity to witness the like again.  So we returned to Rantepao with the headmaster, his wife, + daughter on a very crowded bemo – not only many many people but butchered pig as well, most of him, so far as I could tell, except the head.  We were invited in to take coffee with the family, + were shown the house, an old bamboo structure,  but comfortable.  Out the back they had a traditional rice barn, plus prize buffalo (worth R2 million, which sounds a lot, till translated, plus dogs, cats, chickens, pigs… even a pigeon.  And beyond this, our friend told us, he had rice fields, + more buffalo.  Even as headmaster of the school, he only receives R30,000 a month.  That was the figure he quoted us, tho’ it sounds so unbelievable there may have been some mistake in the translation.  In any case, it is a pittance, plus he has a large family: 6 boys + a girl, + 2 of the boys are going to university at the moment, so he has to involve himself in animal husbandry on quite a large scale in order to survive.  I obtained permission to visit the school tomorrow, + we said farewell.

During the rest of the day we wandered around the shops, returning to the losmen for a respectably early night.  We did make a couple of attempts to track down Tom + Jan,  but they were elusive, so we had to give in.  We had a restless night, because of the over-zealous attention of too many mosquitoes.

Definitely feel very annoyed that we prioritised our own comfort, and so missed out on a somewhat smaller and possibly more authentic funeral celebration; we can be remarkably timid at times. But we have enjoyed our time in Tana Toraja, allowing us time and space to visit more, to see more, to take our time.

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