Palopo, Sulawesi, Indonesia
Palopo is the third largest town in the Island province of Sulawesi, formerly called the Celebes. It is a very old city, having been founded in 1620 by the Muslim Sultan Abdullah Muhiddin. The city’s mosque, Mesjid Jami, was built of carved white coral blocks during his reign. The Royal Palace, dating from the Dutch colonial period in 1920, is now a museum called the Batara Guru. Elsewhere, the royal cemetery holds the remains of rulers from the 17th to the 20th century. The main attraction of Palopo for us is its proximity to the Tana Toraja. The Toraja are a unique cultural group occupying a green valley beyond a twisting pass in the Wallacea mountain range. Their community is renowned for the distinctive tongkonan houses with great curved roofs swooping to high, boat-like prows at either end. The houses are elaborately carved and painted, and often festooned with the horns or skulls of water buffaloes slaughtered as a part of their extended and elaborate funereal feasts. When a Toraja dies, the body is kept for an extended period while the family gathers the requisite means for an extravagant days-long feast and celebration involving the community at large. The corpses are disinterred annually, the bones cleaned and reburied, before ultimately being placed in a crypt carved into the limestone cliffs in a select location. Galleries are built on the cliff faces, and carved wooden effigies of departed ancestors called tau-taus are arrayed on these to be visited and venerated. These unique cultural rituals make a visit to Torajaland one of the world’s most exotic experiences.