blog from the ceo & superbarista of phoenix coffee, home of the best baristas in cleveland, ohio

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Water Buffalo, Funerals and Coffee... hmmm...

I spent the weekend pouring over books on Indonesia in preparation for our Indonesian coffee tasting that is coming up in March. Sunday afternoon was the best. It was bitterly cold; a perfect day to take my girls to the library and hole up in the children's section. I parked myself at a table next to two girls doing puzzles and surrounded myself with encyclopedias and children's geographical reference books. I took notes and looked at gorgeous pictures and maps of Indonesia while my two girls perused the stacks and read, also. It felt like being in college again. I got in touch with my inner geek. It was grand. I love my job.

One of the interesting things I learned actually came from a book I got from the adult section. The book is called Indonesia: a country study and it is published by the Library of Congress. But I wouldn't have been able to appreciate the info in this book if I hadn't primed myself first with the basics contained in the reference section of the children's department (sad but true).

There is an ethnic group in central Sulawesi (formerly known as Celebes) called the Toraja. They grow rice for sustenance and coffee for cash. So our Celebes coffee is most likely grown by Torajans. The Torajans are not only famous for their coffee, which is still Carl's favorite, after all his thirty years in the coffee business, but they are also famous for their funerals. Really. Torajan funerals become a tourist attraction. Here's why...

The Torajan society is organized through several different types of social groupings, all of which possess very strong emotional and economic ties.
  • rarabuku = nuclear family
  • tongkonan = ancestral house
  • saroan = village work group

All three groups are important parts of each individuals life. So when someone dies, it becomes difficult to determine which members of which group actually inherits that person's possessions, since work group bonds may be as strong as nuclear family bonds. One way that people vie for the right to the deceased's inheritance is they offer the greatest number of sacrificial water buffalo at the person's funeral. In so doing, they prove their strong bonds with that person. The amount of land an individual inherits from the deceased might depend on the number of buffalo sacrificed at the relative's funeral. Somes people even pawn land to get buffalo to kill at a funeral! Thus, feasting at funerals is highly competitive and also results in quite a gory spectacle. Here is a link to one visitor's description of a Torajan funeral: Warning... it is quite graphic.

The Indonesian government sanctions these traditional funerary rites, by calling them a branch of "Balinese Hinduism". The Indonesian government, under their "Pancasila" doctrine, only sanctions the practice of five religions, all of which believe in a supreme being: Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Islam (most Indonesians are Muslim) and Buddhism. It is probably a stretch that this funerary practice, indigenous to Sulawesi, would have originated in Balinese Hinduism. Hey, the Indonesian government is practical, and any tourist attraction is a good tourist attraction, so let's find a way to make it legal.


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