Tana Toraja – Roofs and Rice..

Tana Toraja is one of those mystical places I had read about as a child.

Verdant rice terraces, weird shaped houses and an obsession with elaborate funerals. We had travelled some 3000kms from Kuala Lumpur with the hope to attend one of these funerals. But more of that soon in another post that Carolyn is in the process of writing.

We started our journey in the sprawling port city of Makassar, the capital of the huge, octopus shaped Indonesian island that is Sulawesi. We spent few days exploring the streets and sampling the wonderful seafood in this, one of the most friendly cities in Asia – we lost count of the number of selfies people asked to take with us!

Getting around Sulawesi can be time consuming and a little more challenging than other parts of Asia so we decided to take the easy route and engaged the services of a famous local fixer – “Dodo the Penman”. For anyone considering such a trip I have detailed how we arranged it in the Travel Tips section of this blog.

We met with Dodo at our hotel where he introduced us to  “Eddie”, our driver for the next week and off we set on the 11 hours drive north to Rantepao in the heart of Tana Toraja, stopping briefly for lunch along the way at the “Erotic Mountain”


It was a long, long very  drive we were delighted to finally arrive and meet up with our guide for the next few days, a lovely lady by the name of Ritha. We were less than delighted with our hotel the somewhat aptly name Hotel Pison – a word of advice – do not stay here it is not good!

The Markets

Our first day started with a visit to the main market in town. We love markets and have probably seen and shopped in literally hundreds of them on our travels. This one was different – very different. Yes had all the usual requirements of daily life in Asia fruit, vegetables, meat, tools etc. but the main focus here was the provision of livestock for the funerals in the region;

Buffalos are almost revered here. Their ritual sacrifice is the keynote of any decent funeral, the most prized being the albinos which are specially bred and fetch vast amounts of money at auction. Before being dispatched at the funerals they do seem to have a fantastic life being treated to daily washes, massages etc. Bizarre!

Buffalos for the ritual sacrifices






Pigs destined for the barbecue
Fighting cocks for, well, fighting, stroking and generally hanging around with..


Fighting cocks is main pastime for the males in Toraja. As Ritha was quick to point out, “everywhere you go you see men sitting around stroking and caressing their cocks” Hmmm..


We also saw them taking their cocks for walks, for coffee and just generally hanging out with them. Very strange!


The love affair between men and their fighting cocks aside, the standards of animal welfare, it has to be said is abysmal. The pigs especially have a hard time of it. Animal lovers be warned, these poor pigs are tied to bamboo poles and left all day in the blistering sun until they are bought and carried off to the barbie.

The Scenery


The countryside around Tanah Toraja is simply stunning, a riot of verdant rice terraces, forests, mountains with the soaring roofs of the famed Torajan house, popping out of the greenery everywhere.

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We were lucky to be there when the harvest was in full swing and so got to see all the various stages of the crop from verdant green to the golden yellow, ready to harvest rice.


Everyone in the community from grannies to grandchildren helping with the work. The old ladies seemed to bear the brunt of the work, many bent permanently double from a lifetime of bending to plant the rice.

Our days were very varied, visiting many villages and homesteads by car but also hiking between places through the incredible scenery, the equal of anywhere we have been in Asia.

The Architecture

As stunning as the scenery undoubtedly was, the architecture was even more impressive. The soaring roofs of the Torajan houses are everywhere.


Legend has it that the distinctive shape of the roofs is representative the shape of the junks used by the original settlers to travel here. These days many of the roofs have been replaced by corrugated iron which makes them no less impressive, but the original bamboo roofs, when we do see them, usually covered with vegetation, really are something to behold!

Some say the Torajan people are descended from the Dayaks of Borneo or the Bataks of Sumatra, both thousands of kilometres away, but I don’t think anyone really knows.

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These houses are very imposing and extremely high. The horns of the buffalos sacrificed at the funerals are displayed on the front wall of the house as a visible reminder of the wealth and importance of the family. The more horns there are, the richer and higher up the complex social scale are the family.



Although the houses seem huge, it was a surprise to find the their interiors are so small – the opposite of a Tardis! Usually there are only three rooms inside and the ceiling is very high as if giants lived inside. The doors and windows tend to be elaborately decorated with intricate painted patterns.

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A truly enthralling corner of Asia that we feel privileged to have visited.

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