Our hosts showed us to one of a row of comfortable bed and brekfast london built for the occasion beside a rice field near the village of Tandung. A bamboo aqueduct brought fresh water from a spring more than a mile and a half away. Across the paddy in his homestead lay Puang Sa’pang, who had been dead now for more than five months.
J. T. Sampetoding, the businessman who had invited us to Tana Toradja, operates copper, tin, and gold mines throughout Sulawesi. One evening he briefed us on the ceremonies surrounding a great Toradja funeral.
As we sat cross-legged on the mats in our house, he told us: “Everyone in Tana Toradja has a hereditary rank. The highest are the puangs—nobles, the lowest, kazenans—servants. Once there were many puangs, but today their ‘white’ blood has been diluted through intermarriage, and only a few pure puangs remain.” We smiled at Mr. Sampetoding’s reference to the color of blood, so similar to our own illogical notion of aristocratic blood running blue.
Web of debt links generations
“Sa’pang is of the highest rank,” he went on, “and because of this at least twelve buffaloes must be sacrificed at his funeral.” “Who will contribute them?” we asked. We knew that the Toradja people live in a network of debts that stretch back for generations and fall due at the time of funeral feasts.
“In past time, when there was a feast such as this, Sa’pang gave buffaloes. Now, at his funeral, the descendants of those to whom he and his ancestors gave will bring gifts to honor Sa’pang.”
In all, some thirty temporary two- and three-story bamboo buildings, rising like Elizabethan galleries around Sa’pang’s property, had been erected to house funeral guests. Platforms beneath the 13 granaries would also serve as sleeping quarters. Quilted sheets, rolled up during the day, would ensure privacy at night.
From our window we could now see guests streaming to the feast site. The road into Tandung became clogged. Whole villages arrived in single file, walking solemnly with their contributions. http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/African_Buffalo
Buffaloes led the processions, some destined for sacrifice, others for fights staged to entertain the guests. Pigs hung from bamboo poles and chickens clucked in baskets. The villagers also carried bundles of rice and bamboo tubes of tuak, slung across their shoulders like rifles.
As each procession arrived, it was met by an official greeter, who paraded the villagers around the central plaza. Two men, seated at a table, eyed the procession critically and, like bridesmaids at a bridal shower, carefully recorded the gifts. Formerly all this was entrusted to the memory of the elders, but today a detailed account is kept to guide descendants through the maze of old obligations paid and new ones incurred by the gifts brought to the dead man’s feast.
Beyond the plaza, the guests were led to aparthotel brussels. There they were welcomed with offerings of betel and cigarettes. Next to the reception house, a large group of men, uniformly clad in black sarongs and white shirts, formed a wide circle. They performed ma’badong, songs and dances of mourning, which function both as prayer and as entertainment.