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UJUNG PANDANG - Blood shed to the ground. A big black buffalo is just slaughtered to dead. But its soul is now ready to accompany the soul of its deceased master on his future journey in the realm of the death. "So blessed be thy buffalo in Tana Toraja as here, thy become the most important of all animals. Thy is the status symbol and plays a part in many myths, even ancient warriors look upon thee as example of bravery".
It is interesting indeed, to visit Tana Toraja and learn of its unique culture, where its ritual of the dead is a focal point of interest. Not to mention the personal enrichment from meeting its nice and cultured people and the visual fulfillment of seeing the lush and breath-taking landscape along the way to Tana Toraja, about eight hours drive from Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi where the nearest airport located.
The complex mixture of scenic beauty and magical culture of Torajans are the very ingredients that attracted Neckermann, one of the biggest (West) Germany tour operator to start sending foreign tourists in large number into Tana Toraja in 1974. "When Neckermann\'s representative asked me about Toraja, I never heard anything about it. So we did a comprehensive survey and found out that it is actually a very attractive tourism destination.
It has a mixture of beautiful scenery, hospitable people and the culture. So for the next two to three years since first found out, we became the only Indonesian tour operator bringing mostly Germans to Tana Toraja. Other operators follow the suit afterwards and currently Tana Toraja becomes a well known Indonesian tourism destination." says Halim Indrakusuma, president director of PACTO Ltd, a Jakarta-based inbound tour operator.
However, Judith Lim, a Jakarta-based sociologist who did ethnotourism reserach in Tana Toraja for three years from 1994-1996 told The Jakarta Post that tourism has also its negative facade and to some extent has caused damage to Tana Toraja. "It was foreign anthropologists who first sounded a word of Tana Toraja to the world. They were so amazed with Torajan' sophisticated culture, especially its ceremony of the death.
When tourists first came, the locals were happy as they could learn something from the outside world. But when so many tourists finally came, they are not happy anymore. Especially when ignorant tourists came in short pants taking pictures of them whilst they are doing their sacred ceremonies. The matter gets worse when they have to suit the time for their ceremonies to the visiting time of some VIP guests brought in by government officials.
But the worst case is that tourism also caused many of their sacred artefacts like funeral effigies and even their ancestors' skulls to be stolen. "Before the boom of the tourism industry here, the entrance ways to the funeral sites are kept in secret; but tourism exposed it widely," said Lim, also the honorary secretary of Countours Indonesia, an NGO (non governmental organization) with a special concern in tourism development.
Prof. Dr. Hetty Nooy-Palm, a cultural anthropologist from the University of Amsterdam whose paper on Tana Toraja is published in Indonesis in Focus", also mentioned about the lost of these funeral effigies in Tana Toraja. She showed it through pictures the tragic dissapperance of most of the tau-tau (the dummy representing the deceased) from the cliff grave in Lemo between 1981 and 1987.
Indrakusuma of PACTO who brings in average 15,000 foreign tourists per year, especially from European market to Indonesia responds to such a case by seeing it from the Bali's experience. "When I first came to Bali in 1974, there was no tourism. Kuta was one of the poorest villages in Bali. Presently, Kuta is one the richest villages in Bali. It is now the Balinese themselves who guard the island from riot or violence as they know that riot will do no good to the livelihood of tourism which has become their bread and butter.
So, such a problem lies more on whether the locals are also enjoying the benefit of tourism development or not." says Indrakusuma. On this, Lim then says that communication's barrier between the locals and visitors is one root problem in Tana Toraja's case. "Some irresponsible guides will translate it differently both to the tour operators and the guests, when the locals complain of their problems and view," said Lim who also sees that presently, many guides in Tana Toraja lose their jobs due to the lack of visitors to the area.
Indrakusuma also admits this situation. "So far, Bali is still receiving 60 percent of our inbound business, though tours to destinations in Java has increased to about 35 percent compared to the same period last year. But for other destinatons, including Tana Toraja, the numbers of visitors are still nominal. Not much interest yet due to the bad image, especially after the Poso riot in Central Sulawesi last year though I can personally say that it is completely safe in Tana Toraja." says Indrakusuma.
Should currently Toraja draws little interest from the international market, it draws almost no interest from the domestic market. "We do not have any ready package to Tana Toraja, but we can make a tailor-made one should requested. But none of such a request comes up since the beginning of this year. Bad image from the last year's riot in Central Sulawesi and the fact that Indonesian prefer a shopping destination contributes to the situation" says Ira Sarah, product manager of Panorama Tours travel agency, which runs 20 outlets in various corners of Jakarta and Bandung.
Probably the present quiet time in Tana Toraja is the best period for all of its share-holders to equip themselves for their future in tourism, should they are interested enough in that. Or, it's probably the favorable time for foreign tourists to visit the land.

Posted in Tourism @ 26 May 2002 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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