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Monthly Archives: July 2011

Musical interlude: Yoanna

It was love at first sight. Which wasn’t surprising, as it was a warm summer day in the south of France. The setting was the legendary open air theatre festival in Aurrillac. The audience varied from local farmers, to punks with their dogs, to art critics scouting up and coming acting or singing talent.

A French friend and I ran into her performance on the street by accident. She was pretty in a strange way, wearing a cute dress with a skull on it and she enchanted the audience with funny and profound lyrics. Like every good french singer songwriter she accompanied herself by (what else) accordion, a girl playing a harp and a bearded guy on percussion. Their show had the whole audience following them through the streets and band members used doors of random houses as percussion instruments. The grand finale had the entire audience sing “we don’t have time for love, we don’t have time for being unhappy” (it sounds way better in French). I subsequently drove my French friends crazy by insisting on seeing all her three performances during the festival.

Half a decade passed. I continued playing Yoanna’s music from her CD, but as she was Swiss and never made it big in The Netherlands, I resigned to the fact that I would never see her again. Fortunately, fate has it’s ways and an event popped up in the east of The Netherlands where she would perform. Obviously, I went to see her. The setting was very very different. It was a luxury art-food thingy, where most people fortunately didn’t understand that her biting French lyrics were about people like themselves. 

After the show, the few attendees who spoke French lined up to talk to her. I made sure I was the last one so I’d have unlimited time with her. When it was my turn to exchange my first words with Yoanna, I stuttered and my face turned bright red. I explained that I had seen her perform many years before and had driven 200 kilometers just to see her perform again. Understandingly she signed her CD with the dedication “for my first fan in The Netherlands”.


A bull fight with a twist

Like any sensible person I strongly oppose animal cruelty, so it was with mixed feelings that I attended the funeral celebrations that included such an event. Out of respect for the local traditions and that it would include ‘something with a statue’ convinced me to go.

The entranced of the statue of he deceased was one fit for a king. A police escort, 100’s of young people on a motorbike, the army and even the wife of the governor were present. The statue of the deceased was of solid concrete, needing more than 30 people for transport once it was loaded off a gigantic Toyota truck.


But then the main event could start: the bullfight! To my great surprise this wasn’t an unfair battle between a human equipped with weapons and a weakened bull, it were two massive buffalo’s that would determine amongst themselves who was the strongest (point of note: I’ve never seen people care so much about their animals as in Toradja). My guide explained that if a buffalo senses that he is weaker than the other he (never a she) won’t fight and flee. Only when they consider themselves equal, they will fight, just like in nature.

Needless to say that I found myself running for my life when one of the buffalos fled the scene in the face of a stronger opponent


The most amazing part of this funeral wasn’t the buffalo fight though. It was the humility of the family of the deceased. This is a family that is extremely well off and in Toraja society this means that everybody in the family is well off. Still, all members of the family served food to each of the attendees, of which nearly nobody had ever spoken to the deceased (the attendees were mostly villagers and 1 tourist: me). When everybody had found a seat for the bullfight, the family was still serving and cleaning up, so no good seating space was available when they turned up. Well mannered as I am, I stood up to offer my seat to one of the elder female members of the family, but my guide quickly pulled me down. He said that the family would rather stand (and not eat) than that any of their guests had a less than perfect experience during the funeral. Later, one of the deceased’ sisters even came to me and apologized for the poor quality of the seating. It takes a great culture to make it members so hospitable and humble.

Below you see about 10% of the temporary structure that was created for the events for this funeral, which will continue throughout the year.


How to drive like an astronomer

Astronomers use the bending of light due to the gravitational pull to detect large objects like planets or galaxies.

Cars and motorbikes regularly drive without light, making them impossible to detect for novice observers. Indonesians use a similar technique like astronomers whilst driving. By observing patterns in the lights of other cars, they can deduce the presence of large objects like cars or motorbikes. Based on these ‘facts’ one can make split second decisions on evasion strategies. Einstein would be so proud.

Killing in the name of

In sharp contrast with my normal preference, I took a guide to explore the ‘Toradja’ area of Sulawesi. It proved to be an excellent choice. If you ever need a guide: Name: Astro
Telephone: +62 813 42736349

We started the day with a village hidden in the beautiful morning fog.


Things rapidly became more exciting. He brought me to a funeral, where I was the only foreigner. The deceased had died one year ago. And following Toradja tradition, he had been kept in his house for the first months after his death. During this period the family treated him like he was still alive by offering him food, drinks and even talking to him. But now his time had come to depart his family and this was celebrated in a ceremony.

And what a ceremony it was. 27 buffalos were sacrificed together with 127 pigs. Despite that I grew up in the small villages in The Netherlands, I’m inexperienced with seeing animals killed. That changed today. The procedure in the village was simple: cut the throat of the buffalo, wait for it to die and proceed to the next. The person doing the work receives more honor if the animal dies quickly. In practice this meant that it could take anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes for a buffalo to die. There are probably more humane ways to kill a buffalo, but the procedure seemed pretty effective. Still, some buffalos (with their throats already cut) managed to escape the circle of people watching, but none made it further than a couple of meters.

(sensitive souls should not scroll down)


As soon as the last buffalo was offered, the animals were skinned and the meat was divided over the guests and families that had come to pay their respect to the deceased man.

A quick calculation learnt me that the animals alone had cost over 50.000 euro, an enormous sum in this poor village, where parts still didn’t have electricity. This explains also why it takes so long to bury someone as all close relatives need to contribute to the funeral.

I’ve never seen anything like it. The sheer number of animals and the amount of blood flying around make it very tough to watch. The sharing of the meat among the guests and the efficiency of the killing made it an amazing experience.

Traveling and flexibility

Traveling in South East Asia requires a great deal of flexibility. Take today: after escaping a seriously bad room (trust me, I’ve seen loads of basic rooms, this one was terrible), I suddenly had to adapt to completely new circumstances. The small room in an unremarkable city was replaced by a airy hut at a the edge of a coral reef filled see. The uncountable number of mosquitos in the room were replaced by similar numbers of fish. The noisy neighbors (don’t ask) were substituted by friendly locals.

To the inexperienced traveler this village at (literally) the end of a road would have been a massive shock, resulting in unrest, anxiety or even fear. But not me. I quickly adapted to the 29 degrees water in the ocean. With remarkable grace I ordered some fried bananas and a cold beer and installed myself in a comfy chair with a Philip K. Dick book.

Please folks, don’t try this without adequate supervision.