Sunset over Sulawesi

Having spent time on Java and Bali, I thought I had Indonesia figured out. After all, if you've seen one island you've seen them all, right? Sulawesi was a bit of a slap in the face to this narrow-mindedness. What I discovered there was an entirely different culture, as different from Java as any country in Southeast Asia is from its neighbours — in some places even more so. Travelling here offers the extremes of South Pacific geography, from cool rugged highlands to lush equatorial islands surrounded by intense blue waters. It is an experience like no other, a trip into the real heart of Indonesian island culture.

 

Tana Toraja

 

With a fascinating polytheistic mix of animist aluk traditions and western religion, the Torajan ceremonial rites are some of the most unique in the world. This is particularly true when it comes to funerals, which take weeks, months, even years to plan, and often last for an entire week. From lavish spectacles of dance and music, to the placing of the coffin into the sides of cliffs or hanging from trees, it’s truly a transformative experience. I had the privilege of attending a funeral on the third day, which featured possibly the most notorious of rituals — the buffalo slaughter.

 

A typical village in Tana Toraja

An old man leading his buffalo


Togean Islands

 

With impeccable beaches and some of the best diving in Southeast Asia, it's fair to say that the Togean Islands have a lot going for them. But what really draws and keeps visitors here is the incredible sea culture. Located just offshore on stilt houses, the nomadic Bajo people — known to mainlanders as ‘sea gypsies’ — are so isolated from the land that an NGO recently came in to build a footbridge connecting the village to the main island just so the children didn't have to swim to school every morning. The Bajo are quickly modernising, exporting their fish and clams in exchange for satellite dishes and televisions. But the soul of their seaborne nature remains, down to the simple pleasure of swimming freely in the open sea.

 

A village walkway in the Togean Islands

Kids playing in the sea

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