Further north, through rugged and remarkable country is Tana Toraja, often referred to as the “Land of the Heavenly Kings”. With a belief that their forefathers descended from heaven onto a mountain generation ago, the torajas have a distinctive culture based on strong animistic belief. They practice an ancestor cult where death and afterlife ceremonies are elaborate and important feasts. A strict hierarchy is followed in the villages and for prominent figures. Burial ceremonies, for example, can take days to perform. Buffaloes are ceremonially sacrificed and the deceased’s remains are placed in a coffin which is then interred in caves hollowed out in high cliffs. The mouth of the cave is guarded by life-like statues, who diligently look out from a balcony at the families and friends they have left behind.
The people of North Sulawesi have a strong tradition of trade and contact with the outside world and it was the Dutch who made the most lasting impact on the development of the area. Manado`s main attractions are offshore, however, with truly amazing coral reefs off nearby Bunaken island which are now a protected Marine Park and offer some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world.