Toraja Highlands, where traditional funerals reach new heights

By Dian Hasan | August 27, 2010

Tana Toraja (Toraja Highlands), high in the mountains near the center of Sulawesi (Celebes), is one of the last remaining places in Indonesia where one can still witness a unique living culture. Such is the Torajan way of life, and has been unaffected by tourism. Much like the Balinese, the Torajans have managed to stay true to their tradition, where it draws another similarity with Bali, a culture marked by the size (and grandiose) of their funerals.

Magnificent traditional Tongkonan houses set in terraced rice fields, with their intricate geometric and colorful woodcarvings, are a must see. Buffalo heads greet anyone at the house entrance, an attribute to the homeowner’s stature and standing in the society.

The Torajans are a proud and unique people, best known for their elaborate death rituals, which can see feasts lasting for several days, culminating in burials in cliffside catacombs that take literally take an entire village to hoist in place.

Located in the high plains, Tana Toraja has a pleasant temperate climate. Days can be quite warm, however nights cool enough that hotels in the area need air conditioning. The cool dry season runs from March to September/October. Toraja’s lush natural landscape also afford it many different ways to enjoy it, from trekking, mountain biking and white water rafting in the Maitang River.

The best months to see funerals are normally August and September. This is when the farming people of the area have free time before the arrival of the monsoon season (rainy season) in October.

Tana Toraja has remained “undiscovered”, and is unlike other well-known travel destinations in Indonesia that are trampled  with tourists. Popular with European tourists who appreciate its remote location and pure unaffected culture. Accommodation choices are fairly limited, mostly small locally-operated small hotels and Inns. And a few restaurants or shops catering to the tourist trade. All adding the allure of Tana Toraja and her people’s unique culture.


Tana Toraja offers plenty of outdoor activities, ranging from trekking to white water rafting on the Maitang River.

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