land of the kings

The land of the Kings – Tana Toraja – Pt.III

Life takes you to places, that will always be true; by car, by train, by plane or on foot, we will be somewhere, sometime. Life took me to Tana Toraja, and showed me that sometimes being somewhere you don't care about going means more than being somewhere you actually do. I visited the land of the kings years ago, on a school field trip and it did not amount to much memories in my head - I wasn't eager to come back. But I did - and I am glad I did. I came back with a new set of eyes, and see the King's earth differently; I saw it from the people, instead of from the locations. I loved doing portraits, and I had found wonderful people in Tana Toraja, which drove my fingers and my heart to where it's supposed to lead. It was a wonderful experience.

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Tana Toraja is a land of craftsmen; of wood, of clothes, of dances and music, and they are eager to show it. Walking past some rice fields, we encountered a lone hut, standing in the middle of the daylight. Shielded from the heat, was a man deeply engrossed in his woodcraft. Surrounded only by hundreds of his creations - from small statues to those as tall as a grown man - he did not notice our appearance as he continued carving the wood he held with his foot. Moments after, as he noticed us a little way from him, he looked up and smiled, "feel free to look around," he said. I asked if I could take a couple of pictures, to which he again smiled and agreed.

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We did visit the renowned places in Tana Toraja, where they showcase the people's culture. One that piqued my interest was Londa, where the remains of the departed was placed in caves. The caves itself, was thought of by the people as houses for the departed, my guide explained to me, and are therefore called the house where smokes don't rise; named due to the absence of cooking in said 'houses'. We walked into the winding roads of the caves lit with only a small gas lamp in the hand of the guide, as he led us deeper into the cave, giving as much explanations as he could along the way.

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What did Tana Toraja gave me? a firmer outlook on my photography, perhaps; that and the willingness to be drifted by the currents of fate, as willing as possible. Wonder lies in our backyard, or in our neighbor's or in our neighbor's neighbor's, we just have to drift there.

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The land of the Kings – Tana Toraja – Pt.II

My journey to the Land of the Kings took me to an off beaten path by the side of a nameless road - small, unkempt, and seemingly leading to nowhere. The end of the road, however, did exist, and it ended with a grave - that of a dear family member of mine, Bokko. Bokko had been a housekeeper in our family for 52 years, taking care of my mother and her brothers since their births. She ended up being as much of a mother as her own to my mother, and a dear family to ours. She passed away a couple of years ago, a year after I promised to visit her in her hometown through a phone call - a promise that was never fulfilled. What happened, on the other hand was us visiting her grave, saying last words to the departed years after she passed away. Bokko's family, Arma showed the way to her family's grave, then to the last house where Bokko had stayed, and there I saw one thing that could forever put Toraja in the maps of my mind. _MG_7840

Over the last 52 years of Bokko working in our family, she apparently had been saving money, and sending much of it home to help building her family's house; a traditional wooden raised house, which showed the amount of work that had gone into the house. I went up the wooden stair to enter the main part of the house - a living room lit only by windows, surrounded with unpainted - but new - wooden walls. As I sat down cross-legged on the floor along with Arma and Bokko's brother, I noticed in the corner of the room, a TV set with what seemed to be a stereo and a DVD player, looking out of place in the plainness of the room, and my mind began to wonder if Bokko had also purchased the TV set with her money. Looking around the living, room, in fact, I could see the wonders of the person that was Bokko; an old mechanical sewing machine that she had been using, a big Chinese tapestry given to her by her sailor brother that he had presumably gotten from overseas, a carved piece of the last supper, and what seemed to be either a Chinese or Korean ornament hanging from the ceiling. It was a comfortable small home, that she had built, and rebuilt for her family, over 52 years, with a piece of her own sewn into each part of the house. "This is so like her," my mother said to me as I looked around, "she had always been very clean and neat." For the next half an hour we sat and chatted with Bokko's family, surrounded by pieces of her world that she had brought home from her travels and work, and it gave me a certain peace of mind.

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Before we head out of the house, Arma showed us the room where Bokko had been sleeping in her last days. A small wooden room reflecting the rest of the house, it had a small mattress laid out, and a couple of random objects - Bokko's brother had been using it as a storage. As I looked around, I noticed a wooden cupboard, which turned out to be Bokko's, and still held her belongings. I opened the cupboard to find clothes, accessories, and other items that I did not give much attention into, and we stood there, where time seemingly stopped. Here was the Cupboard where Bokko last grabbed her clothes from, a place she kept all of her belongings in, inside the house she had rebuilt for 52 years. This was all we needed to see, and exactly that was given to our family, the treasure of understanding, of knowing, of nostalgia and love - that of Bokko.

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Our family will always miss you, Bokko, thank you for your companionship all throughout the 52 years. My family; my grandma, my parents, my uncles and aunts, my sister, along with myself, will always have you in our heart, wherever I go, along with your house, along with your cupboard, and your family.

thank you. 2013/10/18

The land of the Kings - Tana Toraja - Pt.I

Untitled_Panorama1It was the same scene I had seen over and over again all throughout Indonesia; in the lands of FLores, in the highlands of Malino, and now, In the land of the Kings - Tana Toraja. Golden lights filtered through the cloudy afternoon, falling carelessly upon the greens of the rice fields - and I was, fortunately, there with my camera. Like much of the famous cultures of the world, however, Toraja is enveloped in a cocoon of tourism, with signs for touristic objects can be seen all throughout the city of Makale and Rantepao. Looking for a glimpse of truth into the culture, therefore, could be a little difficult - or is it?

Perhaps the truth is that being so closely in touch with tourism and the rest of the world, is a fragment of a culture's last means of survival; this is definitely true for Toraja's dying art of traditional cotton threading. Located by the river of Saddang, lies an area - upon which the river takes its name from - where the last remaining cotton threaders work; Grandma Ippang was one of the two last ones, according to herself.

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Grandma Ippang introduced herself to me as she performed said dying art of cotton threading. Surrounded by cotton tapestries - all dyed with natural products, such as redwood and leaves - she spun hundreds of years old wooden wheel, which, combined with the pull of her left hand, somehow turned a lump of cotton into a thread. "This thread will then be used for weaving to produce these tapestries," she pointed at the tapestries behind her, "this one is approximately two million rupiahs (approximately two hundred Dollars)," she continued. Throughout our conversation, Grandma Ippang never once ceased her threading, the art which is as much chore as theatrical diplay nowadays. "The art is dying," she said, "the young prefers to practice weaving instead of cotton threading - it's much easier."

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At the age of 84, the only other person she knew could do the traditional cotton threading method, was her daughter, making her bloodline the last Cotton threaders in Toraja. The rise of mechanized cotton weaving in factories drove traditional cotton weaving to the brink of extinction; this is only right, due to the low cost of production. The only people that could afford - and appreciate - traditional cotton threaded weavings, therefore, were foreigners. "They (the foreigners) love these kinds of stuff - natural and handmade," Grandma Ippang told me; she went on to explain the natural dyes used in each threads. Perhaps, Grandma Ippang's daughter will pass on the skill of cotton threading to her daughter, to ensure the survival of her people's art. Even if passed down, however, at this point it seemed as if it's merely prolonging the inevitable.

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