The burial caves and baby tree of Tana Toraja

After attending the funeral ceremony, we carried on to the burial cliffs, caves and trees.

We arrived first at the cliffs, there were no other people.

There are some older Tongkonans (traditional ancestral houses) near the entrance, their roofs covered in moss and plants.



Tongkonans are of a very unique design with their boat-shaped roof and are instantly recognisable.


We then approached the cliffs, walking across green fields towards more Tongkonans.




Above us, peering down from the cliff face are rows of Tau Tau (wooden effigies of the deceased).




Johannes told me that in order to have a Tau Tau, a certain amount of bulls must be sacrificed at the funeral.

It is usually more for the upper-class members of society, and they look over the villages and protect the people.

The coffins are placed in graves carved out of the rocky cliff.

We then drove through a small village and an old lady collected the small entry fee charge to the caves.

We parked the scooter and walked through fields in the pleasant afternoon sun, crossing a bridge over a stream and into the burial caves.

The burial caves are like something straight out of Indiana Jones…


There are skulls, coffins and Tau Tau everywhere. On the rocks in front of you, above your head, in caverns, balanced on wooden beams.



Generally, whole families can be buried here in the cave, the remains sometimes being placed in the same coffin.



The last stop was to visit the baby tree…

When a baby died before growing milk teeth, they would cut a whole in a sacred tree and place the baby inside.


Over time, the bark would heal and close off the grave. They believed that the sacred tree, a symbol of life, would be the new womb/mother for the baby’s spirit and that the next child blessed to the bereaved family would grow strong and healthy and live a long life like the tree.

The heavens opened and the rain poured down, thunder and lightning cracked the dark sky and we ran for cover to a small shack.

We were joined by the staff and the only other European traveler I had seen in Toraja (whom would later become my friend).

The rain lasted for a long time, there was no power, and we sat in silence and darkness.

The staff drifted off to sleep and I sat and waited for the rain to stop.


Wich took well over an hour. We had to wade back to the scooter.

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Freelance writer who loves reading, cooking & travelling. Rarely spotted without red lipstick. Penchant for whiskey on the rocks.

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