Sunday, January 30, 2011

Smoking in Indonesia

While smoking among men seems much more prevalent here than in American, I do not remember having seen an Indonesian woman smoke. Apparently one of the female ETAs was told something along the lines of, "don't smoke in public; people might think you are a prostitute." Maybe it's a good thing that I haven't seen women smoking.

Indonesian men tend to start smoking earlier than Americans. Pak Muslim , a teacher at my school, started smoking in elementary school. Apparently this is normal. Indeed, in addition to making the news for various tectonic events, Indonesia also has its share of smoking-toddler news sensations like Ardi Rizal ( Sad times. Now if only someone would start a rumor that all men who smoke are Johns...

Toraja 2

A month and a half ago I went to a corpse-moving ceremony in my counterpart's village with Mary Barnes (another ETA) and her parents, who happened to be visiting that day from Makassar (side note: this is the village he currently lives in. This village is associated with his wife's Tongkonan. The pictures from the previous post are from in or near the village he is from originally, Nanggala). The old bunker style grave got too crowded, so the Tongkonan (technically the group of people associated with the Tongkonan associated with the grave) built a new one next to the first. They moved three of the coffins from the old grave into the new one. As might be expected, a corpse moving is sort of like a funeral, just more low-key.

Soon after we got there we saw a buffalo slaughter. While almost every buffalo I have seen killed has needed only one slash of the parang (machete) to the neck, this slaughter did not go so well. It took a lot of tries to get a good cut. This is the first whack. I would be up all night if I uploaded every attempt I caught on camera.

The buffalo was not too happy. We weren't too happy about it either. A lot of the Indonesians were laughing. This probably makes you uncomfortable. This made Mary's parents uncomfortable (I think). Indonesians tend to laugh when they are uncomfortable. Sometimes communication across cultural norms can backfire. Oops.

The four bules:

After the slaughter, Mary and her parents left. I ended up nongkronging (hanging out) with my counterpart and some other Indonesians under a rice barn (the usual place to hang out during ceremonies like this). You'll see a picture of the underside of a rice barn in a second. From the side and front they look like small Tongkonans without the buffalo horns.

After nongkronging for a bit, a few of the Indonesians started moving the coffins.

The inside of the old grave:

During the move, at least one of the corpses had its clothes taken off (the clothes probably had been on top of the bodies rather than actually on the limbs). I did not notice whether new clothes were put on, though I do know that there is some (yearly?) ceremony where the dead are undressed and redressed in new clothes. Here is the pile of clothes tossed behind the two graves:

At least one of the coffins had an inspection panel, allowing me to look in and see the dead person's face. And the cigarette in its mouth. Note: I have not mentioned gender since I'm not quite sure. I remember thinking the person was a woman, but I don't remember how I concluded this. Very few Indonesian women smoke, however, so the mere presence of a cigarette suggests it was probably a man. For more on smoking in Indonesia, see one of my perpetually forthcoming posts.

The new grave from the outside. The clump of people is carrying one of the coffins inside:

The inside of the new grave:

While the coffins were being moved, the butchers were preparing lunch:

My counterpart (Marthen) with some of the meat:

Fun for all ages:

After the meat was ready, it was time to nongkrong again. Here's me under a rice barn, eating rice (the photo interrupted the nongkronging; photo credit to Marthen):

After lunch we prayed for a while. Incidentally, my counterpart led most of the service. Apparently he has some sort of leadership position at the church. I'm not quite sure how he has time for everything. On top of teaching more hours than any other teacher at school and teaching Saturdays at an SMK (technical high school) in Makale, he finds time to be a church leader.

All in all, a good day, and a good experience.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Toraja: a primer

Toraja, the part of Indonesia where I live, is known for its culture. Indeed, rumor has it that Toraja’s culture makes it the second-ranked tourism destination in Indonesia after Bali (according to the government), though a recent visit to Bali confirms that tourist traffic in Bali dwarfs tourist traffic in Toraja by several orders of magnitude. I should note, by the way, I’m not sure how the government came to this conclusion, if indeed they every did come to the conclusion. I’m pretty sure Borobudur (or the Borobudur/Yogyakarta/Solo area) is also more heavily trafficked as well. Why, then, have I not yet mentioned Torajan culture?

I have stayed away from mentioning it for so long because it has taken me so long to appreciate (and because I am really bad at posting with any regularity or frequency. I was actually ready to write this at least two months ago). Now that I am ready, here are my thoughts as well as a decent introduction to Torajan culture and ceremonies.

Torajan society is structured by family lineage (through both parents). At some point (still not clear to me when, but I think any time is ok), members of a family gather together money to establish a Tongkonan, which I will loosely translate as a “family house.” Here is a Tongkonan. Thank you, google image search, for the picture. Somehow I don’t have a good picture of just a Tongkonan.

When a Torajan gets married, he (she) joins his (her) spouse’s Tongkonans, as do all of the couple’s children. Torajans cannot join too many Tongkonans since they have a responsibility to each of their Tongkonanans. Consequently, people only count a few generations back.

Clearly not everyone from a Tongkonan can live in it. Indeed, nowadays, no one lives in most Tongkonanas. The buildings are actually rather small and uncomfortable on the inside. Instead of anyone living in the Tongkonan, one family may live near it in a modern, more comfortable house, while other Tongkonan members live elsewhere. Tongkonan members who live elsewhere still belong to the house, and will return to participate in ritual events related to it.

If no one lives in a Tongkonan, why build it, and why call it a house? In the good old days, many people did live in Tongkonans. Even when people do not live in it, the Tongkonan still plays a vital role for its members. Tongkonans may host meetings for the extended family with which they are associated if that family needs to discuss something important. A Tongkonan is a physical representation of a family that allows the family to show its wealth (through buffalo horns displayed on a post at the front of the Tongkonan. Buffalo are very expensive ($4000 for a normal buffalo, $8000 for a white buffalo, $20000 for a buffalo with really big horns (think 1 meter each)), so the more buffalo you sacrifice at funerals and other ceremonies, the richer you must be. I was at one funeral where over 100 were killed (30 the day I was there) and have heard of a funeral with 120+ buffalo). Tongkonan also play a role in Torajan funeral ceremonies.

When a Torajan dies, he may be buried in the burial grounds (cliffs, caves, bunkers) of any of his Tongkonan. His family chooses the Tongkonan, though presumably he has some input. In the months (years) before the final burial but after death, he will be stored in that Tongkonan. After his burial, his body will be taken care of (redressed, moved if necessary) by that Tongkonan.

So how about those burials? Torajans tend to be buried with clothing, some possessions, and the souls of buffalo. As might be expected, the rich burials led to grave plundering. Consequently, for many generations Torajans have been buried in cliffs and caves and, more recently, in concrete bunkers. So says Lonely Planet, anyway, though I haven’t heard anything about grave robbers. Grave robbers or not, though, at this point I think people get buried in these locations more out of tradition than anything else. Indeed, at this point I think most aspects relating to burial practices in Toraja are traditions that remain from religious or other practices from before when Toraja became majority Christian. Torajans bury their dead in cliffs, bunkers and caves since that’s just where you bury your dead.

Anyway, funeral ceremonies last anywhere from a few days to more than a week. Throughout the length of the funeral ceremony, family and friends visit, offer condolences, watch and bet on buffalo fighting, bring assorted animals for sacrifice, watch pig, deer, horse, cow and buffalo sacrifice, eat lots of food, and pray (most Torajans are Lutheran). It’s sort of like a shiva, except with animal fighting and sacrifice and unkosher meat. I’m pretty sure shiva is not a principal social event for most Jews though. Note: If you are really confused, you are probably a Hindu, or at the very least, you are not Jewish. Given the length of the funeral ceremonies, most of the time is spent around talking.

Moving the coffin a few days before the burial:

Here's the first Buffalo I saw killed:

Look! It was grass fed:

Sanitary conditions:

Buffalo fighting:

At first, I was put off from funeral ceremonies because of the animal sacrifice. Perhaps this was because a Torajan I had just met (randomly, in a restaurant) showed me pictures and video of a buffalo sacrifice from a funeral he had recently been to and expected me to be excited. I have to come to appreciate these ceremonies as a time to get together to socialize. Sure, I’d rather socialize in other contexts that don’t involve animal slaughter, but I’ll take what I can get.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Pilkada=Pilihan Kepala Daerah=choosing of the regional head=elections

Toraja Utara (North Toraja) is having elections for bupati (similar to county executive) this coming Thursday. Since Toraja Utara just split from Tana Toraja in the past few years, this will be the first election for bupati. The lead-up to the election is quite exciting. There are 7 candidates, and each roams around the region with a huge entourage of cars (usually SUVs or trucks that can handle rocky roads) or motorcycles, with everyone wearing campaign shirts, and with bigger vehicles blasting or playing music to attract attention. Sometimes a campaign stops on the side of the road in town so that the candidate can stump for a while. There are signs for the candidates everywhere. My students, even, are quite excited for the election, and each has a preferred candidate. My principal, incidentally, prefers candidate 1 (each candidate is numbered), since that candidate is his brother in law.

Anyway, while the elections are quite exciting, I will try to skip town next weekend. Apparently last election (in the joined Toraja, containing Toraja Utara and Tana Toraja), 3 people died in the post election riots. Also, apparently Makale (the capital of the joined Toraja and now of Tana Toraja) is much more tame than Toraja Utara. I don't want to die, so I will either skip town or stay in the school compound. Being barricaded in a compound for several days sounds rather boring though, so I would like to skip town.

Because of the tensions the election raise, the police are out in force. I even saw
one of these last weekend.


Living conditions

A lot of you have been asking about living conditions. I'll see what I can do to describe them.

I actually have quite the nice house (duplex?) Unfortunately, I still keep forgetting that I have a camera and thus I do not have pictures of it. I have more room than I know what to do with, which, I guess, is nice. Compared to many Indonesians, I think, I have a pretty good living situation. I have a western toilet (a godsend) and a shower (it has useless water pressure, but I have been using the squirter that you are supposed to use like a bidet as a shower head since it has much better pressure); most Indonesians use a cross between a bucket and a ladle. After visiting 3 other ETAs though, I think I actually did not do so well in the housing sweepstakes. All of us have similarly sized houses, but the others all have washing machines (though not driers), stoves (I eat at my school, which is actually quite nice), and, well, a lot of furniture. On the one hand, its a little awkward that we get such nice accommodations. Why should I, a first year teaching assistant, have a sit toilet, when the students and the office just have squat toilets? On the other hand, sit toilets are quite nice.

I live at my school, so I try to spend a lot of time outside of it. This means I either go mountain biking (I'm trying to get to know the region. Unfortunately, biking on rock or dirt roads does not work during the rain, which falls every afternoon) or I go to Rantepao. I live about 2-3 kilometers from Rantepao, the capital city of Toraja Utara. Rantepao, at about 45,000 people, is Toraja Utara's biggest (and only) city, if you even consider it a city. There is not much to do on the one main road or the few side streets, but you can buy oatmeal. Since it is hard for me to wake up and shower in time for 6:30 breakfast (and I could do with one meal a day without rice), I have been making myself oatmeal for breakfast. Rantepao is oriented toward tourists (Toraja is known for its funeral ceremonies graves), though there aren't many right now since we are in the middle of the rainy season. Unfortunately though, it's not a very exciting city.

Since there's not much to do in Rantepao and it rains too much to go biking much of the time, I spend a lot of time at school. The students are really into basketball, so I play that with them from time to time. Unfortunately, I have not played in a long time. It is taking me a while to remember how to shoot. Luckily, I am a good 6 inches taller than the tallest other person at my school, so I'm a master rebounder, and I don't really have to try to get open--I just put my hands up. I have also recently introduced frisbee (disc for the purists), but have not introduced ultimate yet. The students seem to like frisbee though.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Legend has it there was a tsunami off the coast of Sumatra. Also, Mount Merapi in Central Java erupted. This is quite bad for people living in Sumatra and Java. I am quite a ways away on Sulawesi, so I am fine. To those who asked, thanks for asking about my aliveness.

Monday, October 25, 2010

SMA Barana', part 1

I teach at SMA Kristen Barana', near Rantepao, the biggest town in Toraja, a regency of South Sulawesi. SMAs are college preparatory senior high schools and Kristen means Christian, so the school's name just means Barana' Christian college preparatory senior high school. SMA Barana' (we usually drop the Kristen) is an RSBI, which means it is on the path to becoming an international school (this title, despite the name, is actually bestowed by the Indonesian government, not some international body). It is considered to be the best high school in all of Toraja, though apparently it is not the best by much (we got 5th at a recent competition open only to Torajan schools). The school has about 270 students (I forget the exact total), split among 10th, 11th and 12 grades (SMAs and SMKs--technical high schools--start in 10th grade).

SMA Barana' (I think all Indonesian schools, though I may be wrong) does not have moving classes. So, instead of each teacher having a room and the students moving between these rooms, each taking separate classes from his or her friends, the students sit in the same class all day, with the same classmates. Their are 10 classes at SMA Barana': 4 10th grade classes, 2 11th grade science track classes, 1 11th grade social science track class, 2 12th grade science track classes, and 1 12th grade social science track class.

On the plus side, having fixed classrooms makes it much easier to schedule classes than having moving classes. With fixed classrooms, the school only has to schedule the 30 or so teachers moving around. With movable classes, the school would have to schedule 270 students moving around. The school also probably needs fewer class spaces, which makes fixed classes less expensive.

On the down side, students don’t get to choose their classes (This is not quite true. At the beginning of 11th grade the students choose to follow the social sciences track or the natural sciences track. The track they choose influences the classes they take. However, they still do not choose individual classes. They choose a single collection of classes only).

Fixed classes also effectively prevents tracking (not quite: natural sciences is generally considered to be a higher track than social sciences, and I think students may need to test into the natural sciences track, though I may be wrong. At public schools, anyway, I’m pretty sure students do need to test into the natural sciences track (and test into SMA)). Tracking can be dangerous, but its also a great opportunity for students to go ahead of their peers (in math for example). With fixed classes, everyone in the same class takes the same level of class.

Fixed classes also means that students don’t choose their classes (beyond choosing their track), so students don’t necessarily take subjects that interest them. That being said, high school students in America don’t have that much choice either. I guess I’m really comparing SMA here to college in America, which isn’t fair at all.

Typically, Indonesian schools conceive of languages very differently than we do in America. In America, I would just take Spanish or French (or both!). At SMA Barana’ (and elsewhere in Indonesia), English gets split into multiple parts. So, 10th grade has one English reading and writing class per week (1.5hrs), one English speaking and listening class per week that follows the curriculum (1.5 hrs), and one English speaking and listening class per week where we can do anything we want. The 11th grade has one reading and writing class, one speaking and listening class, and one English for TOEFL class. The 12th grade has one reading and writing, one speaking and listening, one English for TOEFL and one English for Torajan culture.

Separating English into separate classes creates two main problems:

First, the same teacher does not necessarily teach all of a particular class’s English class periods. One teacher might teach reading and writing, while another teaches speaking and listening (Luckily, no class has more than two different English teachers). Even though the curricula for speaking and listening and reading and writing go hand in hand, the two classes might not follow them at the same pace. Even if the two classes did manage to stay at the same pace, the teachers would find it very hard to instill a sense of continuity (connecting vocabulary and grammar points and helping students remember new things from class to class). This coordination is particularly hard since, even though there are only three English teachers (plus me), there is no regular departmental meeting. I think I will try to change this.

Second, the teachers’ hands are tied in terms of creative lesson planning. Not only do I need to try to teach speaking and listening, but also I need to do so while avoiding reading and writing. These skills are connected, so separating them can be a pain.

On a completely unrelated note, one of my students is named Axlrose. This is awesome (also, he's a good kid, and I don’t want to take away from that, but that's not really the point here). Unfortunately, I can't quite imagine him singing, "Take me down to the paradise city where the grass is green and the girls are pretty." On the plus side, he's much more likely to say that than any of the other options in xkcd #805 ( For those unfamiliar with webcomics, when you have finished reading the comic, place your cursor over it to read the hovertext). If you are older than 40 or have been living under, but not listening to, (a) rock for the past 23 years, "Wikipedia to the rescue!: and".