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Mamasa Toraja
Exploration of western Tana Toraja

The Toraja area is clearly devided into two parts by Sungai Masupu with flows towards the south towards Sungai Sa'dan from the Quarles mountain range. The Tator Toraja live in the eastern part around Makale and Rantepao. This area is pretty tourist-oriented because of the many graveyards, the extensive burial rituals and good access.
The Mamasa Toraja, which settled west of Sungai Masupu, has twice the amount of land compared to the Tator and has much less residents. The planned toard between Mamasa and Bittuang will probably change this, but until now the Mamasa area still resembles the Tator area, but then 20 years back in time, before arrival of tourism there.
Shortage of useable soild in Tator forced many inhabitants to leave the area. An estimated 200.000 to 400.000 Toraja live outside their place of birth. At the other side, only about 20 per cent of the Mamasa Toraja has left. The Mamasa area offers enough soil for the cultivation of rice; a proportionally much smaller amount of agricultural soil is controlled by rich landowners than by the nobility and heads in Tator.
Commonly seen, Mamasa Toraja has a less attractive civilization than that of Tator: there are, for example, no tau-tau. The area, however, is branded by the many traditional houses and impressive highlands. The houses, banua sura, are built on tree stems and have longer roofs than the tongkonan in Tator. The horns of the waterbuffalo are missing, but every banua sura is decorated with woodcarvings and has a wooden statue of a waterbuffalo-or horsehead and sometimes even a human one. These imposing statues are cut from the wooden beams which are used to support the highest part of the roof in front of the entrance.
In some areas, sambu are woven, a traditional fabric. In several villages cotton is made. Before the women start to work, they paint the threads with natural dyes according to the ikat technique. Commercial threads are used in most weaving villages nowadays, they replace the traditionally colored ones.

Exploration of Mamasa

Mamasa has several small losmen and the only way to reach the villages in the environment is by motorbike or on foot. Most travellers depart from Tator to Mamasa, spend the night there and travel to Makassar or Bittuang the next day. This is a wrong choice: it's worth while to explore the Mamasa area for at least one day, one week is good as well. Short trips from Mamasa bring you to villages and settlements along one of the few roads in the area. Longer trips, several days, open a world of traditional villages which are not much visited by foreigners.
A kilometer south of the town, across the office of the camat (subdistrict head), is a 200 meter long road which runs to Bunti Kesisi. Here are several traditional houses, of which the banua sura - loaded with over a dozen of woodcarved statues - are the climax. The statues are relatively new, but are precisely finished. This house has a wooden buffalo head as well, a traditional sign of wealth, together with the horse head, a more recent symbol of status. Overloading the houses with statues is not a tradition, however it is very impressive.
Residents see the banua sura in Orobua as one of the nicest in the area. This village is located eight kilometers east of Mamasa, at the end of a bad road. The road climbs from Mamasa and offers a panoramic view towards the west where you can see the Gandang Dewata high above the ricefields. From Orobua it's about 150 meters to a series of houses which are dominated by banua sura. The house is almost as big as the one in Rantebuda and is said to be 400 years old. An impressive buffalo head, partially covered with a skull, can be found on the pillar as well as many, many buffalo horns.
Traditionally the coffin is made from a single tree in the Mamasa area. They are decorated with a buffalo or a boat. Too bad this kind of coffins is sold to art traders.
The most impressive collection of coffins is located in Tedung-Tedung ('graves'), at 1,5 kilometer off the road to Polewali. Start from the bridge in Pena, nine kilometers south of Mamasa. After a short climb, the trip goes over a plain to a big and open building that was built by the government in 1990 and where the old coffins from the area are brought and kept. All bones from the coffins are thrown into another coffin which can be found at the front of the building.
The only other location with two untouched coffins is in Paladan, southeast of Mamasa. One coffin carried the original buffalo head, the other a horse head. Who has time and energy, can climb the part from Tedung-Tedung to Buntuballa, one kilometer to the south, where you can see a traditional house and a cave.
The village of Bulo is nearby, just a little ahead is Batarira (six kilometers from Tedung-Tedung). Here you can see the traditional weaving, a beautiful banua sura and every once in a while a traditional simbong or warrior dance. This dance, performed by over 20 dancers and guided by bamboo flutes, lasts for about two hours. Dance performances can be ordered on forehand for not too much money. Simbong is also performed in the nearby village of Rante Balla, a village in the center of the most traditional area in the Mamasa subdistrict.
The inhabitants of Taibassi weave sambu fabric of the highest quality and use handmade threads and natural dye. The street weavers in Rante Sepang, along the road from Mamasa to Polewali however, use commercial threads and artificial dye.
From Buntuballa is a route to Pidara, which continues to Ballapeu, five kilometers from Tedung-Tedung, where about twenty per cent of the population practices a traditional animist religion. The big banua sura in this village is seen as the most nice and most authentic in the entire Mamasa area. From the nearby village of Nusa you have a nice view over the fall near Allodio.
From Ballapeu it's an hour on foot to Dama Dama, which is located along a good road between Mambi and Malabo. This road can also bring you to Polewai, what is located along the coastal road 18 km south of Mamasa.

A heavy trip

For a heavy trip, you can walk towards the northwest from the bridge just outside Mamasa, towards Buntubuda or Taupe. Taupe is the center of the regional souvenir industry, which employs half the population and mainly supplies Tator.
Continue your trip to Ulu Mambi, a beautiful trip of 6 to 8 hours. You will see a fall. Ulu Mambi is part of five traditional villages, founded along the banks of Sungai Mambi.
The To Kapé, an ancestral religion, is still practiced by a majority of the population. Harvesting rituals are held here in April (menari pare. The animists have their death rituals but kill, just like among the Christians in this area, remarkably less waterbuffalo's than in Tator. The relative poorness of the Mamasa Toraja has probably something to do with this.
Trekking to the west for one day leads you to Mambi, the small capital of the subdistrict. You will find a couple of losmen there and transport towards the south, Polewali or back to Mamasa.

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