Political capital of Tana Toraja, Rantepao, Sulawesi, Indonesia, is a small village town in central Tana Toraja. Due to its elevation the climate is very pleasant, even in the dry season when, for example, the temperature in Makassar is nearly unbearably high.
The Dutch first arrived in the area of Tana Toraja at the start of the 20th century and in 1906 they set foot in Rantepao. As the ones to arrive were 'zendelingen', or missionaries, the conversion of the local populace was one of the first things on the agenda. The highlands of Sulawesi is one area where they were quite successful, which is mainly due to the wish of the locals to differentiate themselves from the Muslim people along the coast. As Christianity was a viable alternative to the Muslim religion they opted to convert to Christianity. This same phenomenon can also been seen with for example the Batak people in Sumatra. These highland people are also predominantly Christian while the 'invading' newcomers along the coast are mostly Muslim.
In Rantepao the church, built in 1908 opposite the Rumah Sakit from the same period is a testament to the endeavors of the missionaries of that age.
Apart from being the political capital and a decidedly rural highland town, Rantepao is one of the main bases for tourists to visit the surrounding Toraja sites. Due to its central location it is an ideal base from which to make a number of side trips to the villages with their recognizable boat-shaped roofs, graves, natural and not natural caves and beautiful scenery in the area.
In Rantepao itself there is not much to see (apart from the aforementioned church and hospital), as the market has been moved to the nearby village of Bolu, just a few minutes away. The market is quite a nice thing to see and is in session once every six days, so on a different day each week. Entrance to the yard where the pigs and karbau are being traded is 10,000 rupiahs for foreigners, as it is for all officially designated tourist attractions in Tana Toraja1.
At the time of this writing the number of tourists at Rantepao probably number ten at most at one time, while before the economical crisis Indonesia found itself in a few years ago the number would more likely have been tens of times as much, especially in the high season. For me this was a welcome situation, but for the local hotels, losmen, restaurants and attractions this situation is dire indeed. Hopefully the unrest will subside in the near future so that this beautiful country can claw itself back up to its rightful economical level.
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1 The rupiah is in a constant state of flux, however, and mostly downward, so this price will probably be a lot higher in the not too distant future...
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