Funerals, normally intimate and secluded affairs in the West, are wide open for the public. Torajans believe that death should be celebrated, not mourned. It marks the passage of a person to the realm of spirits, a place much better than earth. No better reason for a party, they believe.
But this doesn't mean you should make yourself feel at home. A place so rich in tradition has its codes of conduct, and you don't want to be the ignorant bule flaunting them.
Here are a few tips to help you be a good tourist in Toraja, and experience the culture at its best.
There are only benefits in hiring a guide in Toraja. Guides know where funerals are taking place and they know the protocol to follow.
They're a familiar face when introducing you to the families of the deceased, and they act as interpreters. They can also answer all your questions about the history and customs.
Guides normally find you, but in case they don't, head to Mart's Café in Rantepao. They love hanging out there.
It's entirely possible to explore Toraja without a guide. Here are 7 ways to navigate your way around, and experience the cultural traditions.
Toraja has dozens of villages, and a funeral could be taking place in any one of them.
To discover which ones, you'll have to do a lot of footwork and ask many people in central towns like Rantepao: hotel receptionists, restaurant owners, shopkeepers, rickshaw drivers, other travellers.
Not everyone speaks English, so learn some Indonesian.
Find yourself a moto taxi (ojek) or motorized rickshaw (bemo) and agree on a price to take you to the villages where the funerals are happening.
Gifts are expected from guests at funerals. A carton of cigarettes is the standard offering. But you'll have to know whom to give it to once you arrive.
You'll see local guests in casual clothes. Some will wear T-shirts and shorts. But you are not a local, you are a representative of your country. Respect the Torajans and your own origins by wearing long pants (or skirt) and a something better than a T-shirt.
You'll find Torajans to be a laid-back bunch. You can freely circulate around the funeral site. But when it's time for major rites, like processions, groups songs, buffalo sacrifice, and anything involving the coffin, know your place. Stand back and let the families do their thing.
This should be obvious anywhere, but there is no shortage of tourists who treat locals like zoo creatures. It won't hurt you to ask, and you'll get a yes almost every time.
You might be served snacks and palm wine at a funeral. It's generally impolite to refuse, so have at least a little.
Watch the video of the ceremony here.
A guide on proper behavior in Indonesia to help travelers avoid any awkward misunderstandings.
Eat like a local, get to know the villagers in a homestay, or just escape tourist-infested cities, with these 5 tips get off the beaten path in Indonesia.