It is midsummer. People in many parts of the world, most likely where I am from, eat a lot of meat now. Here’s a story from another meat fest in Toraja, Sulawesi, Indonesia. We drove off on motorbikes up to the mountains to the world, which doesn’t know the price of the respect for their ancestors. This is proud Toraja, above the green hills in Central Sulawesi, where life and death get another meaning. Rumors that right now there should be the largest ceremonies of the years had reached me already earlier. They said there’s gonna be 500 buffalos sacrifices, not just 5 or 50, but as many as 500 oxen, plus thousands of pigs. After arrival I couldn’t question these numbers. There was three big funerals going on in the area, one more ambitious than the other. Yes, all these hundreds of oxen, plus thousands of pigs are to be killed for the glory off dead, in order to ensure a smooth movement to the next world – to the world of spirits. Here when the body gets quiet by death, it doesn’t actually mean the death in our sense. People can keep the body in their house for about one year or so, treating it almost as if he was still alive. But when the family doesn’t organize such funeral, the dead will be dangling somewhere around the village, and probably merge into one gang with all the ghosts that make up Indonesian everyday experience. The entire site of the funeral service is slightly hilly because of the piles of the pigs laying down in the mud, in pain of the heat. There’s a team of men around them, one stating loud in the microphone who has brought the pig here, another one is marking the pig with spray color. Again and again there are three-four men entering, a shouting pig on their shoulder, lips already foamy. Again and again some of them move a step away and there’s a knife thrusting into the throat of a pig, followed by intolerable squealing. Blood splashes around, the butcher pushes the vein with his toe. Then someone grabs a flamethrower and burns the pig into crispy pork. The bloody action is passed by a column of beautiful ladies with bleached faces and cherry red lips. I hear the trance-lifting mantras of Toraja. This here is some other world, which has evolved so bizarrely on this island with strange shape somewhere in the mountains. The buffalo-fetish of the community is also looking back to us from the houses of Toraja, shaped as if they were ships and topped with a head of a bull and many horns of sacrificed buffalos hanging over the doorway. The more horns hanging – the higher the social status of the household.
“And who was that woman?” I asked after hearing more about the market price of buffalos.
“The dead? Oh, she was a housewife. “
The next burial is particularly spectacular. There are tens of people with tens of buffalos in the huge square surrounded by thousands of spectators. At the same time, hundreds of men try to push the shell of the corpse to the top floor – in order to be closer to the natural world. Later I hear from kepala adat (cultural head of of the community, in other words, the most important man in region), that these white oxen cost about 350 million rupees each (about 35,000 euros!) There are some 24 of those, in addition to the normal buffalos, which cost around 20-40 million each. “We can estimate that the total financial budget for this ceremony can reach about 40-50 billion rupees. But nevertheless, this amount does not express how much the people of Toraja respect their ancestors, “said the man of importance. Namely, the white bull is especially considered a sacred animal, whose cost can be ten times more expensive than of usual bulls.
Why is that? Mostly the locals justified the high cost, because a white bull is just a rare occurrence. So the owners of the white buffalos stand proudly next to their animal, until it will be killed a couple of days later. I also confirmed, that there is no difference in the flavor of the meat. For this special occasion there are lots of media representatives around and every other visitor reaches out a hand with a smartphone to hit some shots of this bloody action or pose with a bule-buffalo, (or with me, as I’m also a bule – white person- here). Thousands of eyes recognize the sacrifice of the next bull – an arc of blood erupting from the throat cut wide open and the animal staggers between the worlds of the living and the dead for several minutes. Ugly. The dead used to work as a school teacher. She raised up 12 children.
In the next funeral there’s a family of our local friend, whose family automatically became our generous host. Thousands of people have gathered here, so the funeral place is surrounded by kilometers of deadlock. Before the comménce of the fierce bullfight, the men are singing mantras, holding their hands together in a circle. It even creates a certain sense of majesty. “At least once a year we gather together in such a funeral, there’s certainly someone who passes away every year,” says our friend’s cousin. “This time I brought one buffalo. But anyway, oh well, this is such a status game,” she laughed. “Everything here is publicly announced, who brought how many buffalos, all written down!”
After a few days in the funeral in Toraja, where according to the custom, I tried a bit of buffalo meat, I did not want to eat a single bite of meat for several months. The experience of Toraja can be a challenge for a fan of vegetarianism in principle. Though I must admit I was enjoying it in a sense I like blood and human perversion for example in the films of Jodorovsky or the revenge of inBOIL to iDeath in Brautigan’s “In Watermelon Sugar”.