Orion Expedition Cruises Blog Day 7

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Orion Expedition Cruises Blog Day 7

This weeks Cruise Blog is by our guest blogger Dave Warne. Dave is the Commercial Director for Wexas, our parent company, and this was his first cruise experience. Join him onboard Orion Expedition Cruises Orion II on his recent trip and discover the amazing ports of call.

Day 7 - Tana Toraja

At breakfast we hear that we will indeed be able to attend one of the funerals in the afternoon, which is really exciting.

Before that, however, we have a long drive up some rather scary winding roads to Bori, to see yet another example of a burial site. Wealthy Torajans can have large stone megaliths planted at their burial sites, as long as they can afford to slaughter 24 buffalo - quite a price when you consider that the cost of a single buffalo can range from £700 to as much as £20,000 for a premium albino pink buffalo. The megalith field contains some 102 stones, some several metres high. We also see rock carved burial chambers - one of which is open for us to see into. These are carved by hand from solid rock and can take several months to complete.

The site is interesting enough but the countryside in the area is absolutely stunning, and evidently very fertile. Rice fields appear on the plains, rice terraces tumble down mountain sides and huge bamboo thickets tussle for space with rocky outcrops.

After an even more hair-raising road journey we reach Batutumonga and then carry on a few minutes to see the burial of a number of bodies in caves that have been carved out of an enormous boulder. Bamboo ladders, looking like the rigging on a sailing ship, point up to the grave openings in the rock, many of which have ornate doors. Some graves are large enough for several family members and when a new family member is buried the rock grave is refurbished. A few are being repainted when we arrive.

The scene is organised chaos. We see bodies wrapped in cloth on the ground awaiting their burial. Several young men are struggling to haul an open coffin up the bamboo ladders. Old, broken coffins are scattered around the base of the rock. Relatives and friends are huddled around the site, finding whatever vantage point they can. Everyone is friendly and surprisingly unperturbed by the site of 80 or so camera-toting tourists gawping at the events unfolding around them. Unusually, there is no awkwardness taking photos here as might be expected; young children jostle to be in the picture and adults smile whenever I raise the camera.

We spend half an hour here watching the spectacle before heading off for lunch at a hill-top restaurant at Batutumonga, offering stunning views of Rantepeo and the surrounding countryside.

If the burial is a spectacle, then our afternoon visit to a funeral is an intense experience. We arrive at the ceremonial site which has 3 large bamboo structures to accommodate guests constructed in a rectangle around an open space. A 4th structure at one end - looking like a small tongkonan - contains the body of the deceased. Announcements blare out intermittently from a large PA. In the centre, a group of young men are carving up a buffalo that has recently been dispatched. It feels like a mini-Roman arena.

As Torajan tradition dictates we are lead in single file to one of the 3 structures, split into male and female groups and seated facing the centre. We are greeted by family members who come to us offering cigarettes and betel nuts. They stay with us for a few minutes to discuss what we can (given their limited English and our even more limited Torajan) and then depart. We are announced as guests of honour and thanked for the gift we brought (a pig had been hastily arranged earlier in the day) and then were treated to the site of not one, but two, buffalo being slaughtered in front of us.

We had been warned about this and guests were given the option of staying in the bus if they felt uncomfortable but virtually everyone came. Looking away at the right time was enough for most guests but, like many others, I found the scene strangely compelling; this was a ritual that had changed little over the centuries and we were being treated like visiting dignitaries. In fact each buffalo was dispatched quickly, with a single lightning-fast cut to the throat, performed by specially qualified Torajan men.

Torajans say that their buffalo have a good life. Their milk is used but otherwise they are kept only to be slaughtered at funerals, living a relaxed life in the fields. From a western point of view we may not agree entirely - some of the nose rings used to secure the buffalo looked particularly painful - but as Expedition Leader Mick Fogg reminds us we are here to observe and learn about other cultures, not to make judgements.

Larger funerals can see up to a hundred buffalo and between 100 to 500 pigs slaughtered, with the meat being distributed to friends, family and local residents. Although costly to stage, a large funeral evidently ushers in a period of abundance for local villagers.

We are allowed to wander freely around the site to absorb the event, meeting the locals and taking photos before we have to leave for our long and arduous drive back to Orion II.

We get there for around 8.45pm. The long day and bumpy drive have been a struggle for a few of the older clients but as one guest notes, to have such an authentic cultural experience - the likes of which few of us will ever experience again - you have to do the miles.

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