Saturday, July 04, 2009

White buffalo and a Toyota car

What does a white buffalo and a Toyota car have in common?

Well-built albino buffaloes with long horns are a rarity. Rare goods are precious, and therefore never cheap. A nice exemplary can fetch 160 million Rupiah (approx. US$16,000) on a market in Tana Toraja, Sulawesi.

The Toyota Innovo is a most common sight in Indonesia. Previously called 'kijang' (deer) and used for collective transport or as family vehicle, the new, more modern version plies the routes of Indonesia as much as the kijang. The average Innova costs around 16 million Indonesian rupiah (they love big numbers here...). Buy it in Sulawesi, and you will contribute to the wealth of the current vice-president, Jusuf Kalla, himself a Sulawesian and the one and only Toyota agent on the island.

But the commonality stops here. If your Innova will carry you for thousands and thousands of kilometers, don’t expect anybody in Tana Toraja to use an albino buffalo for transport or work. Such an animal deserves to be pampered. Every morning, it will be taken to a nice place where there is food, sun, shade, and muddy water. After a day of eating, digesting and bathing, the animal will be brushed to shine and brought back to the house. Should it stay around the house, it will be hand-fed.

It is often said that the Torajans see life as a preparation to death. The good life of the buffaloes definitely follows this philosophy. When somebody dear dies, no (buffalo) sacrifice is big enough to ensure the dead person a safe passage in the afterworld, where s/he will reunite with the gods and return to the earth as rain, thus ensuring fertility and the preservation of the people.

The better the buffaloes and the bigger their amount for the funeral, the safer this journey will be. Should you want a tau-tau (wooden effigy) for your dead relative, 24 buffaloes will at least have to be killed.

You might have to sell your Innova (and more) for this…

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