Death in Toraja

By Rob Packer

I think I should start by stating the obvious: Toraja is one of the weirdest places I’ve ever been. There are countless cultures referred to as unique in the world, often because they continue practices that stopped elsewhere because the social mores changed (the banning of fox-hunting in the UK), or an invading power has condemned them as barbaric (Spanish invaders put an end to Aztec human sacrifice along with countless other indigenous customs), or there wasn’t space for them in a new religion (Hindu customs in Islamicized Java), they were impractical (no examples as who can qualify a cultural practice as impractical apart from members of that culture?), or a combination. While there are plenty of celebrations no longer practised by the Toraja any one of these reasons, there is an obvious exception: Torajan funerals.

The view over Toraja

The view over Toraja

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A Day in Makassar

By Rob Packer

I flew into Sulawesi’s metropolis, Makassar from Denpasar last July. Things seemed promising compared with the relative chaos in the domestic terminal in Denpasar. My flight was continuing to Manado and quantity over quality was the order of the day at check-in: a group of four women in front of me in the queue were trying to travel with forty bags, quite a few were designer bags (possibly fake). Meanwhile, Makassar’s Sultan Hasanuddin Airport is a light, airy, pseudo-Norman Foster conservatory that wouldn’t look out of place in the Gulf. It’s also the gateway to eastern Indonesia and was going to be my jumping-off point for the highlands of Toraja.

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