Tana Toraja (Sulawesi, Indonesia) | Travel Guide

Kete kesu tana toraja sulawesi

The Tana Toraja (Sulawesi, Indonesia)

To immerse yourself in the Tana Toraja spirit, this indigenous people with ancestral and theatrical customs, you will have to go to the south of Sulawesi during your trip to Indonesia. This island is located east of the island of Borneo. Magnificent by the landscapes it offers, it will amaze you with its deep green mountains, its terraced rice fields, its steep coasts and its original dwellings, especially those of the Toraja country. The Tongkonan, surprising traditional houses, with unique architecture, with a roof reminiscent of the shape of buffalo horns. Which is surely no coincidence, the buffalo being a sacred animal for this community.

How to get to Tana Toraja?

Tana Toraja is a cultural region located in the highlands of South Sulawesi, Indonesia. It’s famous for its unique funeral customs, traditional architecture, and stunning rice terraces. Here’s how to get there:

By Air

The nearest airport to Tana Toraja is the Sultan Hasanuddin International Airport in Makassar. From there, you can take a domestic flight to the smaller airport in Palopo or the Bua Airport in North Toraja and it takes 1h flight. From either of these airports, you can then take a taxi or rent a car to reach Tana Toraja.

By Road

You can also reach Tana Toraja by road from Makassar. The journey takes around 8-10 hours, depending on traffic conditions and road conditions. You can take a bus or rent a car to make the journey. There are also shared minivans (locally called “pete-pete”) that run between Makassar and Rantepao (the main town in Tana Toraja), but these can be crowded and uncomfortable.

By Train

There is no direct train service to Tana Toraja, but you can take a train from Makassar to either Pare-Pare or Palopo and then take a taxi or minivan to Tana Toraja.

Once you arrive in Tana Toraja, you can explore the region by hiring a local guide or joining a tour. Some of the top attractions in the area include the ancient burial sites, traditional villages, and stunning rice terraces. Don’t miss the opportunity to witness the unique funeral customs of the Toraja people, which involve elaborate ceremonies and feasts that can last for several days.

Culture and religion in Tana Toraja

If the majority of Toraja today are Christians, many are still practicing the Aluk To Dolo, “the way of the Ancestors”, a fascinating animist cult of the dead. Funeral ceremonies can last several days and are very impressive. To accompany their deceased to the land of the dead, the Toraja sacrifice buffaloes which will travel alongside them to guide them. The funerary sites are cut into the rock and accommodate members of the same family. In front of each tomb is a balcony on which are arranged wooden sculptures bearing the effigy of the deceased. Thus living and dead can they see each other every day.

Funeral ceremony

People go to Tana Toraja mainly to attend the funeral ceremony, which takes place in summer. We drove through Tana Toraja in March so didn’t manage to see the beautiful ceremony.
Because the family of the deceased (depending on the status) must accumulate an incredible amount of money in order to bury their loved one with all the honors.

For this reason, the body of the latter awaits burial for several years. What is the “funeral” money for, which a family can work for half their life? At the feast and several dozen heads of bulls, which are cut off at the ceremony in front of everyone.

Ritual Rambu Solo
Funeral Ritual Rambu Solo. Rudyasho, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tana Toraja located in the heart of the mountains of South Sulawesi, the Toraja Country is a unique region of its kind. Or at least, the people who live there. The Toraja Country region is a collection of funerary sites, mountains, rice fields, traditional houses decorated with painted wooden sculptures and above all unique funeral rites.

Moreover, it is the funeral rites that are at the heart of the Toraja cultural identity. An ethnic group of approximately 650,000 people made up mainly of Christians. It was officially born in the early 1900s. It is an animist ethnic group following a set of beliefs (Aluk To Dolo: the way of the ancestors). The Toraja people are organized into castes of 4 levels.

Toraja is also famous in art (wood carvings) and in the architecture of their houses (the Tongkonan) that the Toraja people stand out. The Tongkonan are houses with an astonishing shape: the roof is in the shape of an upside-down boat. This would come from their ancestors who used the hull of their boats to shelter from bad weather. A characteristic architecture of the Toraja people that can be found in all the villages of the region. Each of the houses was accompanied by one or more rice granaries of the same shape as the house (but smaller). The set is magnificent!

What to visit in Tana Toraja?

Some of the top attractions in Tana Toraja include ancient burial sites, traditional villages, stunning rice terraces, and unique funeral customs.

Lemo Stone Tombs

The stone tombs of Lemo are located 12 km south of Rantepao. The driver of the last car that took us to Tana Toraji dropped us off there. Lemo in translation means “orange”, because the stone hill, in the slopes of which tombs are carved, resembles this particular fruit in its shape for the locals. So be it !

GiorcesToraja 030
Lemo, Toraja, South Sulawesi. Giorces, CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Londa Caves

Another old cemetery, but already in the caves, is located 6 km closer to Rantepao than Lemo and is called Londa. In fact, they are all the same burials, only now inside the cave complex. The place name was transferred from the nearby village of the same name.

There are still rice fields in front of the cave entrance, the place outside is quite scenic. Inside the cave, coffins, bones, skulls are everywhere, the inhabitants do not hesitate to take pictures with almost all the dead.

Read also: Indonesia Travel Guide | Preparing for your trip, practical guide, advice, tips and itineraries

Tana Toraja, Londa outside
Rock tombs in Londa. KondephyCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tilanga Natural Pool

This picturesque place with clear blue waters is located very close to Lemo or 10 km north of Makale, to be exact, it is located in Sarira Village. From the main road in Tilanga, walk a few miles, but what a beautiful views on the sides.

Indonesia Travel Guide | Preparing for your trip, practical guide, advice, tips and itineraries

Sources: Villa Carissa Seminyak, Bali, PinterPandai, Lonely PlanetDiscover Your IndonesiaWonderful IndonesiaTrip AdvisorUNESCO

Photo credit (main picture): Ansensius (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Photo description: Kete’ Kesu’ is a tourist attraction located in North Toraja Regency. There is a row of Tongkonan which is the traditional house of the Toraja people. In addition, in the same complex there is also a tomb that has been used as a tourist attraction, as well as many sellers of typical Toraja souvenirs.


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