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.