During our initial consultation with our tour guide upon arriving in Toraja, we were informed that we were lucky because we arrived the day before the weekly market. Having been to my fair share of markets during my three years in Asia, I was picturing a variety of colorful fresh produce proudly displayed in woven baskets lining the side of a road. Those things existed but merely served as the passage to the real attraction of the market: animal acquisition.
Our first steps inside yielded an encounter with these fish flopping around, helplessly gasping for air. Apparently, they can survive for up to three hours out of water. This was just a small taste of what was to come.
We walked further down the road to the water buffalo exchange and were greeted with quite a sight: as far as we could see in any direction, there were sellers displaying their fare. As you can imagine, it was quite pungent and crowded.
Water buffalo play an integral part in the funeral celebrations of Toraja. Like any other species, water buffalo come in a variety of colors and sizes. The most prized (expensive) are those that are albino or partially albino. Horn shape and alignment are also indicators of the value of the creature. Long necks are also a valued trait and to acquire longer necks, the water buffalo are strung through their nose and suspended high in the air for several hours a day to achieve the desired effect.
Though these animals did not appear to be comfortable, it was nothing compared to what we witnessed at the pig sties. From quite a distance, you could hear the agonizing squeals of discomfort. Before continuing, let me just say that in general, I'm not a huge fan of meat, mostly because I simply don't care too much for it. This experience, and the one that followed the next day however, were almost successful in turning me into a permanent vegetarian for humanitarian reasons. The displays of animal cruelty that we witnessed in this market were shocking and overwhelming. We witnessed live pigs being carried upside down on spits (when their legs could very visibly not handle the strain), tied up in bags, hit, kicked by children, spat on, tossed around in wheelbarrows, picked up by their hind legs and bound to the point of suffocation onto the backs of motorbikes. I didn't last long down there.
As a city dweller, I know that there are things neatly tucked away outside the city limits that take place to put food on our tables. However, I have trouble believing that the degree to which things were taken at this market are widely acceptable practices in the industry. As a teacher, it was also disturbing to see children taking part in these activities, being brought up with such an irreverence for life. I recognize that I was merely an outsider looking in but I know that I will never forget the chorus of squeals that rose up over the market that day.