Let me recap: I am currently teaching high school English in a small town in South Sulawesi. The region is called Tana Toraja. The people practice a mixture of Christianity, animism and magic. I live amongst rice paddies, banana trees, palm trees and mountains. Livestock is plentiful. I've never seen so many buffalo, roosters, pigs and stray dogs in my life. I've seen many people holding chickens recently. Like a baby.
Yesterday I went to my first Torajan funeral. The ceremony was held in a small village. Many of the men wore sarongs. We began with a buffalo fight. It was a gladiator-like situation except the buffalos didn't seem very interested in fighting. There was a big circle of men around the area the buffalos were meant to fight and the rest of the village watched from a nearby hill. Occasionally the buffalos would get into it and clash horns. I watched with a fellow Fulbright ETA (English Teaching Assistant) from a nearby hill. It felt safe until the two buffalos ran out of the fighting circle and began making their way up the hill--right towards us. I think the scariest part was seeing the look of fear in the villagers' faces around us. I did think for a moment: this would be a very bizarre way to die. We climbed higher up into the forest but at this point one buffalo was within five feet of us. My counterpart reminded me that it was better to stay still. Waiting. Fortunately at the last moment a farmer was able to grab the buffalo by its nose ring.
After the buffalo fighting, the village chief invited us into his rice barn/gazebo. A few of the women poured us Torajan coffee. Torajan coffee is supposed to be some of the best in the world. Starbucks gets many of its beans from Toraja. The Torajans serve it in a large silver kettle with tons of sugar. It's delicious in small quantities. We also were given a traditional funeral snack of sticky rice infused with coconut and wrapped in banana leaf. Meanwhile, we talked with the village chief about everything from terrorism in Indonesia to the rights of indigenous populations around the world.
Next came the ritual animal sacrifice. It is traditionally believed in Torajan culture that a deceased person's livestock can travel to the afterlife with him or her. Today the animal sacrifice also serves as a status symbol. The more buffalos that are slaughtered, the richer and more important the family is. Rich families may slaughter 50 to 100 buffalos during a relative's funeral. The kicker is that a buffalo can sell for $8,000 to over $20,000. Yes, dollars. Funerals last about a week so I only saw one buffalo get slaughtered. It was sad to see the buffalo lick its nose, totally oblivious before--whack. The blood was an incredibly bright shade of red.
After a few more rounds of buffalo fighting, the sacrificed buffalo was laid on palm branches and cut into pieces. The meat was then placed in a huge iron container and roasted over a fire. The villagers all partake in the roasted buffalo meat. The best piece (near the neck) goes to the master butcher. He often will sell it.