Since it culminates in excreta (of luwak, or civet cats), how apt that the life cycle of the world’s most expensive coffee should also begin with quality manure.
For gourmet coffee connoisseurs worldwide, the highest of high-end coffee beans come from the hindmost low-end of a civet cat.
White buffalo in Pasar Bolu, Rantepao. Allegedly sold for as much as 400 million rupiah (43,000 USD), these animals are the most highly prized sacrifices at Torajan funerals. Here, our peripatetic friend Rod Davis, inspects one specimen with his fisheye lensed GOPRO camera. The man has since motorbiked on to Northern Sulawesi
To answer our many questions about motifs on family homes at Ke’te Kesu, Heru turned us over to a chain smoker with a toothless grin and leopard print shorts. The unlikely looking elder turned out to be Tinting, an honored local casket carver, who had been written up in a government tourist brochure as “a national treasure.”
To our many questions, he sagely gave few answers. The motifs fell in three categories: symbols from the sky, the animal world and local plants. All the colors were locally and naturally sourced. Black came from cooking fire coal; red and yellow from local clay; and white from regional ocean dolomite. A University of Columbia researcher, one Kathleen Adams had spent four years here at K’ete Kesu. Really, for any answers, we best read her book.
Then he led us through his workshop, where two helpers rested against elaborately carved, tear-shaped coffins. Crosses indicating the Torajan’s Christian beliefs intermingle with traditional motifs dating back to a much earlier era. Tinting explained that each took three months to carve.
Working on caskets day in and day out, I thought that maybe he would have a clear idea of the way he would like to be buried.
When we asked, Titing flashed a toothless grin and said, in regular sage manner, that would be for the living to decide.
We rise to strong Torajan coffee in the land famous for funerals. We’re primed for our introduction this morning to the ritual buffalo slayings that accompany funerals here.
But first to old, broken tombs. Heru, a young local photographer, meets us at 8 am with his side-kick donning a legalize marijuania t-shirt. They have already rented us a motorbike, so we’re off (still buzzing on the morning brew) to K’ete-Kesu, bumping along mountain roads flanked by terraced paddy fields.
The hills are pockmarked with traditional houses characterized by long roofs upturned on either end to resemble the buffalo horns fastened to their front posts. We stop at a cluster to inspect their stenciled designs in natural reds, oranges, and black. Roosters, pigs, and the revered buffalo are the major motifs. The houses are on stilts, harkening back to the days when a raised house offered protection from marauding enemies. On the roofs, ferns proliferate among the thatch.
Behind the village a path leads us to a hill at the base of which is our first tomb. A wax sculpture of the deceased, dressed in a white sarong and sporting a cane, stands encased in glass. Heru explains that this is the likeness of the man within, ready to hold court with any who stop to commune with him.
Up a rocky hill path further on, we find wooden caskets with intricate wood carvings. Many are cracked and broken. One resembles a pig, apparently a symbol of wealth reserved for women who have passed. The casket’s lid sits ajar, revealing a jumbled pile of bones—a femur, a section of pelvis, and a skull sit on top. Beyond, jutting out of the rock face are other burial chambers fashioned as mini traditional houses. On one ledge, skulls are lined up. Cigarettes are left in front of them as offerings to the departed.