While you will see many buffalo lazing about when you travel through Tana Toraja, you will never see them working. While farmers manually work the fields, buffalo are lazing about in the sun or chilling out in a nearby stream or pond. The buffalo has a very specific role in Torajan society, and it’s not to work in the fields. The buffalo’s job is to guide the dead to paradise.
Buffalo aren’t cheap, especially not here in Toraja where they play such an important part in the traditional ceremonies. The average buffalo costs around $2000 but of course, not all buffalo are created equal. The bigger and stronger looking their bodies, the bigger their horns and the smoother their skin, the more they cost. If they have a rare discoloration in the eyes and face, prices skyrocket sometimes into the tens of thousands of dollars. It is good custom to bring a buffalo as a gift to a funeral ceremony, but with an average income of $300 a month, the buffalo aren’t for everybody.
Those who are less fortunate can go with the cheaper alternative of bringing a pig as a funeral gift. A small one will set you back around $100 and the bigger ones go up for as much as $500. In the marketplace they are conveniently tied down between pieces of bamboo, making them easy to control and transport on the backs of motorbikes for example.
To Torajans, the buffalo is a holy animal whose spirit helps to guide the spirit of their deceased to paradise. The stronger and healthier the buffalo is, the better and faster it can get a deceased relative to paradise. And of course, the more buffalos there are, the better and faster the journey will be. There is however, one slight caveat for the buffalo. In order to guide the spirit of an ancestor to paradise it too must be in spirit form. It will be sacrificed during the funeral along with its fellow buffalo and the sacrifice forms one of the highlights of the ceremony. More on that tomorrow.