Aug 24 2013

Rantepao buffalo market

Published by at 3:26 am under Sulawesi


One of the key attractions for first-time visitors to Rantepao, the main tourist hub of Tana Toraja in Central Sulawesi, is attending a traditional funeral ceremony, which involves the sacrificing of large numbers of animals. Where exactly do the pigs and buffalo who meet their difficult deaths at these funerals come from? We went to find out.

35,000 euros on four hoofs.

You are looking at 35,000 euros on four hoofs.

“To market to market to find a fat pig,” goes the nursery rhyme and it turns out matters are no different in Rantepao. When I asked my guide Martin where they all come from, he said he’d take me there. Belo market runs every six days (it’s on at other locations other days) and does wholesale pig and buffalo sales, along with all of the other usual rural market stuff. It’s a 15-minute drive outside Rantepao and, well, we’ll wager that you won’t ever see quite so many buffalo anywhere else in your life.

Gimme a kiss.

Gimme a kiss.

It turns out that there are buffalo, and there are buffalo — and when it comes to funerals in Toraja, the more “well marked” your buffalo is, the higher the price you can get for it. Ideally, you want a pure “white” buffalo  — though they’re more pink than white — but they’re very rare. If you were in the market for something special the day we went, you’d have had to settle on a very solid white faced character that the owner was asking a cool 35,000 euros for. Yes, that’s more than the price of a family car for an animal that will be slaughtered and much of its meat given away.

Time to start fattening up these new arrivals.

Time to start fattening up these new arrivals.

Welcome to Toraja’s funeral scene — the one we attended saw the ritual slaughter and butchering of 30 buffalo and more than 250 pigs.

Because of the outlandish prices buffalo fetch in “funeral season” in Sulawesi, they get shipped in from across the archipelago — we saw buffalo from Sumba and Sumbawa, where they are purchased young and skinny then shipped to Sulawesi (by boat then truck), and fattened up for the slaughter.

Haggling before a crowd.

Haggling before a crowd.

An entire secondary market of buyers and sellers buys buffalo in batches of a dozen, which they then try and flip to a seller after suitable fattening. All the dealings are cash only — no Mastercard here — and the traders keep their wads wrapped up in the sarongs around their waist — I’m still trying to imagine a sarong with a capacity for the equivalent of 30,000 euro in rupiah.

Just hanging out. Chewing.

Just hanging out. Chewing.

A second part of the market is dedicated to the buying and selling of live pigs. For those upset by the wilful mistreatment of animals, this is a part of the market best avoided (and please don’t scroll down any further to avoid a picture we took). The pigs are trussed to a bamboo pole, via strings of bamboo — they’re in obvious pain — and are left around, often in the sun, until sold.

Brown hair is a no no. Off to the salon for you.

Brown hair is a no no. Off to the salon for you.

If funeral bound, once sold, the pigs will be carted around, still trussed, to a funeral, and then tossed around and left in the sun until their number is up, when they are slaughtered, via a stab to the heart. Even then, the cruelty doesn’t stop — at the funeral we attended we watched as a trussed pig was stabbed in the heart (spraying blood everywhere) and then gutted while clearly still alive.

Request pig reincarnation far from Rantepao.

Request pig reincarnation far from Rantepao.

As we’ve written elsewhere on Rantepao’s funerals, they can be a fascinating experience, but the treatment of the animals — from the market right through to when they are dispatched to build that buffalo bridge to heaven — will be profoundly upsetting for many travellers.

It all ends here.

It all ends here.

It left us wondering why the animals are treated so badly, completely unnecessarily. You may wish to skip the funerals altogether and stop by to see the buffalo while they’re still happy (but not those pigs…)

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