Postcards from Rantepao, Indonesia

posted on July 4th 2014 in Blog & Indonesia & Photo Postcards with 20 Comments

Today, I’d like to show you around another amazing place in IndonesiaRantepao. The capital city of Tana Toraja region in Indonesia known for rather unusual funeral traditions and stunning landscapes.

Just see it yourself. 

I have never seen so intense green color in my life till I got here.  
It was raining a lot that day, so the fog was running low in the valley. The path turned all slippy and muddy and I nearly plopped into one especially big and dirty puddle. But it was worth it ‘cause that’s what you see around.


“And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.” 

- J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

I guess Holden was picturing something like this.

Of Traditions


Bulls are considered the sacred animal in Tana Toraja. They aren’t used in farming, being bred and kept only for a special occasion – the funerals.

The Christianity has been brought here just around 100 years ago and got well-mixed with the local pagan beliefs resulting into very peculiar traditions. If you ask a Torajan what’s his religion, he would proudly say that he’s a Christian. But would say that he often brings small gifts to a cave tomb where his ancestors are buried to receive the spirits’ goodwill.

When anyone dies, it is considered that the bull will guide the spirit safely to the underworld. And yes, the animals get killed during the funeral ceremony…

The more – the better as this would accelerate the soul’s transition to the afterlife.


A rare blue-eye, marble breed that can cost up to 20.000$  How do people earn money here for buying around 10-12 bulls for a funeral ceremony?

I’m still wondering about that question…The local guide carefully avoided answering my question and started telling me about rice.

Of Life

They grow a lot of rice here in Tana Toraja.


That is carefully hand-picked by the local women, spending whole days ankle-deep in the muddy waters. Yet, they still smile. Not only to a weird, white haired foreigner, approaching to take pictures of them. But to each other too, continuing their talks, methodically grabbing, cutting and stocking new and new sheafs of rice.


Hey, look whom else I’ve met here! A few new friends came to say “Hi”! 


Foreigners are rarely seen here at the villages, so get ready to extra attention, loads of smiles and touching. And of course, everyone will point at your camera and ask for a picture. Nope, you don’t need to think of the ways how to hand it. The kids just want to have fun here and now :)


If you happen to be in Rantepao one day. Take the time and spend in wondering around the nearby villages and hiking the dump sloppy hills around. Each new turn you take – opens a new jaw dropping scenery.

P.S. Grab appropriate shoes! Your legs would probably look like this by the end of this long, emerald green walk inside the heart of the Tana Toraja Region.


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  • Sara Sets Sail

    Wow, stunning beauty for a country I have to admit I am not that familiar with, but these images make me want to get familiar with on the double. The greens you speak of are just stunning and the peacefulness and uniqueness of the people and their customs blow me away as well. Thanks for sharing!

    • Elena

      Thank you, Sara. Indonesia is a vibrant country indeed and it’s way more than just luxury yoga retreats in Bali or Eat.Pray.Love experience :) Sulawesi is one of the lesser known states, yet it doesn’t become less amazing because of that!

  • Miles of Happiness – Marie

    Ohhh I’ve been there too! I love that place. Except that I almost died from Typhoid there… ahah. But still- beautiful!

    • Elena

      Geez, sounds harsh. But it’s nice to hear that it’s not your only memory of Tana Toraja 😉

  • Agness

    Wonderful pictures, sweetheart. I’ve been to Indonesia and I know how beautiful it can be! You capture it so nicely!
    Agness recently posted…Photo Gallery: Stunning Zaanse SchansMy Profile

    • Elena

      Thank you so much, Agness! Rural Indonesia scenery is truly impressive!

  • Adelina Wong

    I’ve always wanted to wander through rice fields. Gotta remember to bring good footwear though! It looks so lush and green.

    • Elena Travelgram

      Yeah, rubber boots or smth easy to clean would be the best choice!

  • Katie Lutz

    Indonesian people were some of the nicest I’ve ever met – we were so fascinated by their, well, fascination with us – haha! I do feel pretty bad for that poor cow being strung by his nose like that. Lovely photos of the rice terraces too!

    • Elena Travelgram

      Yes, absolutely! And they are really easy-going :) A girl I made friends with in Jokga said she saw a white person for the first time when she was 7 and thought that’s an alien :) so I do understand where all that attention come from

  • ~K

    Wow, the colours just look amazing! Something about the flat and green makes the photos seem so fresh! Also, that’s one pretty bull!

    • Elena Travelgram

      Yes, I have never seen anything greener than those fields around! Thanks, K :)

  • Lauren

    I can’t say that I’m terribly happy that they buy animals to sacrifice them, but I understand that you are explaining their tradition. Thank you for sharing with us! I love your photos of the scenery!

    • Elena Travelgram

      Thank you, Lauren. I didn’t like that fact either, but well, we should respect the local traditions no matter how odd they may seem.

  • Corinne

    Elena, These are gorgeous photos. I love the story of their Chrisitanity, I’ve come across the same idea in other places as well.

    • Elena Travelgram

      Thank you, Corine! Yes, I find it extremely interesting when cultures and religions mingle, creating unusual new beliefs and traditions.

  • SJ Begonja

    What a fabulous post! I too was reading and wondering how they’d afford those bulls. My guess is that people save their whole lives to have the money to fund it or the family goes into debt. Thanks a bunch for joining us for #SundayTraveler this week.

    • Elena Travelgram

      Thank you SJ! This question still bugs me too as the region isn’t very rich with main income coming from agriculture and a few mines, mainly family-owned. Guess, they do save for a few years and take loans.

  • Franca

    This looks like a very beautiful place to visit, the only thing that I’m not happy about it is the custom of killing the bull during the funerals, I’m an animal lover and, even if I understand it’s an old tradition in this case, I don’t see the need of sacrificing an innocent creature, it’s fair!

    • Elena Travelgram

      Yes, I couldn’t neither accept, nor understand that tradition’s weird and cruel to me, but absolutely fine for the locals. I don’t feel like I have the right to judge them.