Rantepao buffalo market, Toraja; the streets were so packed it was impossible to walk down them. Cars sat bumper to bumper crawling along the muddy track. Scooters passed around the outside, fighting with the crowds of people walking towards the market. On the sidewalks old women and men had laid out food on mats; piles of chillies sat next to salted fish, dried shrimps and vegetables. The smells wafting up mixed in with something fruitier and it was getting stronger the further I walked down the road.

Rantepao buffalo market in Toraja

I turned down a smaller side street, following the crowd towards Sunday mornings big event, the Rantepao buffalo market. I didn’t know quite what I was expecting, but as the road opened up into a large square I realised it was not this. The field, if you could call it that, was huge and almost every single square meter had been put aside for buffalo, pigs and people.

Rantepao Buffalo market

A pig lashed up to bamboo were being wheeled through the crowds on a wheelbarrow. I sidestepped the pig and came face to face with the first buffalo. It was enormous with a great white head and thick stringy hairs. It shook its head, its large pointed horns cutting dangerously through the air. The handler tightened his grip on the rope that was looped through the buffaloes nose. I decided to ask just how much this buffalo was worth.

Rantepao buffalo market Toraja

Forty-thousand dollars! Holy s%#t! You could put a deposit down on a house for that amount of money. really, I asked? So just what makes this buffalo so expensive, it’s got to be a special diet right? Maybe there feeding the buffalo special imported grass from Iceland, or possible it’s one of those beer diets that some Japanese cows have. Oh, the grass that grows on the side of the road! Right, that makes sense. So, if it’s not the special diet then it will be? Right, the white head and the white streaks on the buffaloes backside…

Toraja Rantepao Buffalo market

So what happens to the buffalo once you sell it then? Butchered at a funeral you say and grilled. The meat doesn’t turn a special white color or taste any different… Ok, well that explains why funerals are so expensive in Toraja. So expensive in fact that some bodies will have to wait a whole year before they are buried.