National Geographic : 1940 Jul
The Celebes: New Man's Land of the Indies caskets, slowly falling to decay in this tunnel like gash between turbulent water and inac cessible rock face. Funeral parties carrying Toradja coffins to this last resting place must have toiled like Titans and looked like Lilliputians. Strange "Doubles" Guard the Dead Beyond Makale is another rock face closing a side valley, but with trees crowning its top. Converted into a series of vaults, like a color less copy of those in Petra,* the Lemo cliff is impressive, because, standing like spectators outside the deep pockets in which burials are made, are wide-eyed "doubles" leaning on railings, like sports fans, high above the scene. When a new corpse is buried in a cliff tomb, his double takes its place in the rock gallery. To photograph these fascinating images as closely as possible, I struggled up through dense jungle growth and emerged on a crag almost level with the portrait figures, their eyes staring in eternal vigilance, their bodies clothed in bright checks and bandanna colors. Some have traveling sacks for their trip to the land of souls (pages 76 and 77). There was scarcely room enough to set up a tripod, but the cliff was in deep shadow and a long exposure was necessary. Once a tripod leg slipped and the machine leaned toward the void. It was a relief to reach the valley floor again with my camera intact. Even from close at hand there was no evi dence that any of these crude figures were mummies, as I had been told. Patient inquiries, transmitted through com pound fractures of speech from English through Malay to the Toradja dialect, gave no satisfac tory clue. If mummified figures instead of portrait dolls ever stood here, the practice is long since extinct. The Toradjas, far from resenting my pres ence, guided me up the steep boulders and seemed eager to answer any questions. These I propounded through my chauffeur, with whom I had worked out a fairly satisfactory means of communication with the aid of a little red phrase book. Swift sunset was upon us when I started to leave, and bright was the fire at the cliff base where some pagan was preparing to roast buf falo meat. "Tonight," I thought, "when bare-limbed Toradjas cluster here at the base of this tall cliff, and the fires of their feast, illuminating their faces, lift the guardian tao-taos out from the shadowy grottoes and put light in their grotesque, lidless eyes, this will be a memo rable scene." But I had to set out for Makale, where, from a high lawn overlooking a lotus lake, one hears the chatter of the bazaar as a soothing hum, and star dust specks the cool sky until the rising of the moon. As we entered the already dark tunnel of trees, there came toward us a funeral party. After all I had heard about Toradja graves, I was, quite by chance, to witness a cliff burial. But would my presence and camera be re sented? "They not look your camera; they look your face," said my chauffeur, and as I leaped about on the narrow ledges between the paddy fields one member of the party motioned to me to come closer. A Child Goes to Her Cliff Tomb At first sight it did not seem like a sad occasion, for there was dancing and singing. Had a chief been dead, warriors would have sung and danced his praises. Certainly in this case there were some more intent on the feasting than on the burial of this eight-year old girl. But as the party swept aside and the cylin drical bundle into which the corpse had been bound was laid on the ground, the heavily veiled mother crouched beside it and threw out expressive hands as if she would cling to her daughter for one more hour (page 79). The Toradjas used to hold the bodies until a propitious time for burial or until the neces sary buffaloes had been assembled for slaugh ter. By then, sorrow had so yielded to cere mony that special mourners were employed to keep the corpse from being entirely ignored amid feasting which sometimes became an orgy. But this was a mere child and the presence of only one bullock indicated that the family was poor or the occasion of minor importance. The whole attitude of the mother suggested that the death had been recent, the memory of the daughter fresh and poignant. The niche into which this little body was to be shoved was perhaps twenty feet above the steep bank and a hundred feet above the rice fields. An agile athlete, having cut toe notches in a length of green bamboo, touched its top to the slightly overhanging cliff and started up the almost vertical pole (page 78). There was nothing at the top to prevent it from slipping, and the companion who helped balance it seemed unconcerned. But first one, then the other, mounted the slender bamboo rod, squirmed onto the narrow ledge at the * See "Petra, Ancient Caravan Stronghold," by John D. Whiting, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, February, 1935.