The Dutch had ignored the Torajans for two whole centuries because access was difficult, they had little productive agricultural land and, behind well-defended walled hilltop fortresses, were serious slavers and headhunting warriors. What finally provoked the military colonial response was increasing Dutch concern about the spread of Islam in South Sulawesi, especially among the Bugis and Makassarese. In 1909 they drew a line around the Sa’dan area, and called it Tana Toraja, the ‘Land of the Toraja.’ They sent in the Reformed Missionary Alliance of the Dutch Reformed Church, to Christianize the Aluk tribes as a counterbalance. They angered the Torajans by abolishing slavery, by moving them to the valleys, and by taxing them severely. Despite, or because of, all the love, only about ten per cent of the Torajans had converted to Christianity. What got them the other ninety percent was the Darul Islam separatist attacks that forced them to finally ally with the Dutch for protection. In 1965 the Indonesian government recognized five religions. It took four more years for the Torajan Aluk to Dolo ancestral way to join the list.
“You should go to a funeral.” Said the clerk at the desk next morning. “I will find you one.” And she picked up the phone and began speaking to girlfriends in the same whiney lilt that sails on Malay lips, from Singapore to Mindanao.
“OK.” I said, looking at Robyn. She looked back the same way.
“Go and have some breakfast, and some Kopi Toraja coffee.” Said the clerk. “Then come back to see me.” We went for breakfast and some Kopi Toraja coffee, across from a Bugi businessman. Something upset him about having to be here.
“The Toraja are infidels.” He whispered. “Be careful not to attend any of their celebrations. They will slaughter pigs and serve you alcohol.” We thanked him for his advice, and returned to reception.
“You must go by Kansas.” Said the desk clerk. At least that’s what we thought she said.
“You must go buy Kansas.” She said, again. “Or a carton of Kreteks. Cigarettes.”
“Cigarettes?” Robyn asked.
“Yes.” She said. “As a gift to the bereaved family.” So Robyn and I bought a carton of Kansas, and went to the funeral.
“Follow the smoke.” She had said, when we asked how we would find it. Follow the smoke. But it wasn’t from Kansas. It was from the food fires, inside the large rante compound. Robyn and I presented our carton of Kansas, and were quietly welcomed onto a grassy field of shelters, rice barns, and other ceremonial funeral structures by beautifully costumed young women with beaded antimacassars. I looked back to find our cigarettes already in circulation. The guest of honor was lying prone, wrapped in layers of cloth, atop the highest pavilion, supervising the preparations for his forthcoming long trip to Puya, the Land of Souls, from the treetops. One of his disciples instructed the proceedings through a microphone connected to the megaphone under his arm by a coiled serpent. A line of women in rose-peach dresses arrived and passed us, leading with the food bundles in their outstretched arms, crossing yet another in equally colorful garments, serving coffee and cakes, like competing teams of the half time show at the funerary Olympics. Our own contribution to the observance paled in comparison to the endless procession of gigantic trussed pigs, suspended from horizontal bamboo poles under their necks, steered by a man on each side that joined hundreds of others, left squealing and shitting in the muddy antechamber of their fate. There were scores of water buffalo, tethered by ropes through their noses, others wandering randomly and others yet, fighting, prodded on by the chile up their backsides.
Robyn and I entered a sea of conical hats. We joined hundreds of sarongs, spread on the pavilion floors, or the ground, eating chunks of seared pork and vegetables and glutinous burassa rice out of bamboo tubes, and drinking glasses of fermented tuak. Some were watching a bulangan londong cockfight, a sacred requirement to spill blood on the earth. Robyn knows how stimulus-averse I am to animal cruelty, and we quickly turned our eyes away.
But away didn’t work so well either. Torajans think of the dead as being sick, and stuck in the living world, until their real demise is actuated by a tomabalu funeral specialist’s dispatch of a buffalo. They believe that the deceased rides this buffalo to Puyo, and so it must be strong for the coming difficult journey over hundreds of mountains and valleys. They believe he will get there faster if he has many buffalo, although the biophysical logic of this is highly disputable. It didn’t matter much to this man’s tomabalu, who pulled the animal by the rope through his nose and, with a sharpened machete, quickly slashed the animal’s throat. Young boys ran to catch the spurting blood in long bamboo tubes, which were then cooked as a sort of blood pudding over an open fire.
The butchering was done fast, the horns removed for the vertical collection attached to the pole on the front of the family house, and the buffalo roasted and eaten by the funeral guests. The boys who collected the blood clapped their hands and performed a bizarre cheerful Ma’dondan dance.
The number of animals slaughtered is proportional to the man’s social status in life, and his age at death. At some funerals, up to a hundred have been immolated. Before the Dutch arrived, slaves or prisoners were also sacrificed, to provide servants in the afterlife. Inheritance goes proportionately to the child who slaughters the most buffalos. Sacrificed animals that had been given as ‘gifts’ by guests, are carefully noted as a debt to the lamented's family. I figured we were square.
Several buffalo carcasses, as well as their heads, were lined up on the field waiting for this owner. And then began the Ma’badong.
A company of men in black sarongs assembled in a ring, shoulder to shoulder, and began a slow circular dance and monotonous chanting. A reenactment of the cycle of life and the life story of the deceased brother, the Ma’badong would go on all night. This would be followed by other music and songs and poems and dances- the Ma’randing warrior dance would be done to praise the courage of the fallen one, with a large shield made from a buffalo skin, a helmet with a buffalo horn, and a sword. Elderly women in long feathered raiments would sing poems while dancing the Ma’katia. And the Ma’akatia would be danced to remind us all about the generosity and loyalty of our Torajan benefactor.
But Robyn and I left the ceremony. We took one last look at the shrouded pupa in the tall pavilion, and the beheaded water buffalo on the grassy knoll. It teemed down with rain. Follow the smoke.