Sulawesi – A Trip to the Market, Graves and Ghoulish Encounters

Rantepao Market

Held every six days, Rantepao market offers a crazy mix of livestock, food and general market goods. Buzzing with traders from the lowlands who come here to auction their livestock of buffalo and pigs, Rantepao market attracts people from all over Tana Toraja.

This is where the buffalo and pigs are bought and sold for funeral slaughter, for gifts or to be reared. Highly prized buffalo were albinos with their blue eyes or those with distinctive markings and impressive horns.  They were actually quite stunning to look at if not a little scary. The size of some of them was immense!  During the funeral season when demand for buffalo is almost feverish, the price of a buffalo can rival that of a car and I’m not talking about a second-hand car!

A beautiful buffalo - prized highly for its attractive markings
A beautiful buffalo – prized highly for its white and grey markings
Traders auction their buffalo

Another part of the market was dedicated to the buying and selling of pigs. Now, if you’re into animal rights then this is one place where your “to do” list is going to be endless! Trussed to bamboo poles, hundreds of pigs are left in this painful position until sold. If bought for funerals, they are carted off by whatever means,  still trussed up and left for hours in the sun until they’re slaughtered – usually carried out by a stab to the heart. Not the best method to ensure a painless end to so much suffering!

Animal welfare is not at the top of the agenda here!
Pigs are bought and sold either for domestic use or slaughter

Rantepao market offers more than just the auctioning of livestock. Discover stalls bustling with traders selling delicious Torajan coffee, fresh fish, a variety of vegetables and much more. Here we chatted to locals and browsed the colourful array of foods native to Sulawesi.

Everything you need to make a great Indonesian curry



Kambira – Baby Graves

By now, both Asad and I had serious buffalo overload – alive or dead! We had come to the market straight after witnessing a funeral and quite frankly we’d seen enough animals. So after a lunch of chicken and rice cooked in bamboo and an hour spent gazing across a buffalo free rice field, we headed east of Makale to Kambira. A well-known and unique burial site, this sacred place is renowned for its trees. But these are not just ordinary trees. They actually housed the deceased bodies of babies. Hard to believe, but so true!

Walking through a forest of bamboo we came to a clearing where a lone Tarra tree stood. Looking up we could see the tree had a fibrous patchwork of squares covering the niches that hid the bodies of the babies.  Enos explained that only babies who had not cut their first tooth were buried here. Those from high-class families would be buried higher up  than those of lower class. All would be buried facing the direction their families lived. The sap of the Tarra tree was symbolic of a mother’s milk whilst the trunk of the tree represented returning to the mother’s womb. It was a tranquil place, peaceful and not as unsettling as some of the crypts and graves we’d seen.  Another reminder of how fascinating and unconventional the customs of Aluk to Dolo are.

There were around 20 baby graves in this area
Woven fibres are used to cover the openings of the graves

Tampangallo – ancient burial site

Leaving Kambira, we headed to Tampangallo. Famous for housing the descendants of Tamborolangiq, who is believed to have descended from heaven on a stone staircase – this burial cave has a chilling collection of hanging graves and bones on show.

Tampangallo -

Apparently dating back to three hundred years, the coffins were in various stages of decay. Time had taken its toll, spilling the contents everywhere! We weren’t particularly frightened about being here. We were just taken aback by the scale of the caves and the many skulls that littered the floor. It was more unnerving than anything else. As we looked around in astonishment, even the cave seemed to take on a formidable presence. The natural erosions of the rocks formed the shapes of faces and skull-like impressions. It was spine-chilling!

Look closely and you’ll see a face!
A line of coffins with tau tau in the background
Skulls litter the floor of the cave
I love the one in the middle!

 Were you spooked by your visit to Tana Toraja?