Bada Valley : Sulawesi’s Mystifying Prehistoric Statues

The Bada Valley or Napu Valley, as it is sometimes called, is located in the District of Poso in Central Sulawesi, and is part of the Lore Lindu National Park. The valley is particularly prized for the beauty of its natural environment – a scenic expanse of rice paddies and green plains, engraved with small streams, and surrounded by soft rolling hills which give way to dense forests and rocky mountains. The Lariang River flows through the entire valley and is crossed by three hanging bridges. This river is irrigated into smaller streams which run across the terraced rice fields. The Bada Valley is world famous for its prehistoric relics from an ancient megalithic culture. Dozens of finely carved megaliths dating between 1,000 – 5,000 years old are scattered across the valley. A mysterious, yet magnificent testament to the skill and genius of a civilization that we know absolutely nothing about.

Megalithic monuments have been found in numerous countries across 6 continents with one thing in common: No one knows who built them. Perhaps the most famous “standing stone” site is Stonehenge, in England, or the giant heads of Easter Island. These sites have been visited by thousands, if not millions of tourists, and yet their meaning remains shrouded in mystery. The Megaliths of Bada Valley hold equal historic significance, but are difficult to access, buried in the mountainous terrain of Central Sulawesi. Some are found in the middle of valleys, some in streams, open fields or rice paddies.

The megalith of the Bada Valley, Central Sulawesi
The megalith of the Bada Valley, Central Sulawesi (Source : urbanghostsmedia.com)

The statues of Bada Valley are carved in human or animal form: owl, monkey or buffalo; all with the similar, and rather abstract style of being somewhat oval with large, round faces.The largest statue stands 4.5 meters tall and 1.3 meters thick. Sources indicate that they show remarkable resemblance to the stone statues of Easter Island, Cheju Island in Korea, and the Olmec Statues in Mexico.

Nobody really knows how old the megaliths are, who made them or why they’re there. The most common response from the area’s inhabitants when asked about the origin of these statues is that “they’ve always been there.” The locals have various explanations for the meaning of these statues. Some believe they were used in ancestral worship or may have had something to do with human sacrifice. Others believe that these statues ward off evil spirits. One legend tells that they are criminals which were turned to stone, and there is even a superstition that the statues can disappear or move from place to place. Some have even been reported found in slightly different locations. Yet another curious aspect about these statues is that they are made from a type of stone not found anywhere near the area, so there would need to have been a mighty good reason to haul these huge, heavy stones off into the middle of nowhere.

The megaliths of the Bada Valley, Sulawesi
The megaliths of the Bada Valley, Sulawesi (Source : historiamniejznanaizapomniana.wordpress.com)

The term “megalithic” is used to describe structures that were built with large stones, and without the use of mortar or cement. It also denotes items that were hewn from stone into a definite shape for a definite purpose. The word megalith originates from the ancient Greek word mega, meaning great, and lithos, meaning stone.

Researchers and philosophers have long analysed the significance of stones, yet with or without understanding, their work never ceases to fascinate. Megalithic art has been said to represent eternity that lives beyond the notion of time. Massive, yet unpretentious. Unchanged. Unmoved. Timeless. Through centuries, nay millennia of sun, sands and storms. Still they stand—watching. Silent witnesses to our past. Secrets masked behind a timeless expression—whispered only to those who pause to listen.

ACTIVITIES

UeDatu Cottages is located in the center of Tentena, at the bank of Poso lake, surrounded by rice fields. Several types of rooms are available, each with double beds with quality mattresses, clean sheets, comfortable pillows and fresh towels provided. Services include free WiFi, use of a city bike and free coffee and tea all day long. Rates start at about USD 10 – 30 per night. Address: Jalan UeDatu 92, Tentena.

Tando Bone Bungalow Resort offers 8 spacious bungalows, built on the sandy, eastern shore of Lake Poso and overlooking the enchanting highlands and sloping hills of Central Sulawesi. Bungalows can be rented from a day to a year and are fully furnished with solar powered lighting and refrigerator, gas stove, modern toilets and showers with sun-heated water. Prices range from 350,000 – 500,000 Rupiah. Other facilities and services include a restaurant, usage of phone, email and fax machine, jungle excursions and trekking, and lessons in traditional handicrafts, Indonesian cooking, and traditional dancing. Address: Jalan Setia Budi 18, Tentena.

Just getting to Bada Valley at all could be considered adventure enough, along the long, winding, scenic trail in a land particularly susceptible to landslides. Keeping that in mind, it’s best to avoid travelling in the rainy season, which is from about October – May.

Enjoy the beautiful scenery, while navigating through the vast stretches of fields, wet farmlands and streams for a glimpse into the history of a civilization long gone. Since their discovery in 1908, Bada’s strange stone statues have attracted scientists and archaeologists alike, who have visited to conduct research, and perhaps solve some of the great mysteries of existence. Tourists should bear in mind that the megaliths are hidden in extreme and not easily accessible locations, requiring a real passion for travel and discoveries, and the ability to sustain harsh conditions—not to mention an ardent love for adventure, a strong curiosity for this cryptic culture, and of course, the willpower to see it through.

Buffalo megalith, Bada Valley
Buffalo megalith, Bada Valley (Source : flickr.com)

According to an inventory conducted by the megalith enthusiasts of the Sagarmatha Faculty of Agriculture in 1994, there are over 300 megalithic sites around the Lore Lindu National Park. Objects exist in the form of statues, large pots, or vats and stone mortars. Unfortunately, many of these ancient relics have been smuggled out of the area, sold and traded.

Palindo, (The Entertainer) is the largest statue in the area, standing 440 cm from the ground. It is suggested that the Palindo is related to death, because his round face and large eyes face west. According to Toraja culture, a region in South Sulawesi, West is the direction of death. This theory holds some credibility based on the fact that the Toraja and Bada people share similar linguistic and cultural similarities. For example, both the Bada and Toraja sacrifice a buffalo for the deceased during funeral ceremonies. Another local legend tells of an ancient King of Luwu, who in order to prove his dominance, once ordered 1,800 of his subjects to move the statue from its location in the Village of Sepe to Palopo, a long way south. The efforts failed, but as an insult to the abusive king, the people turned the once south-facing statue to the west. When the king’s followers tried to turn it back, it fell to its side, where it rests till today.

Maturu, (Sleeping) measures 3.8 meters, and looks very much like a horizontal Palindo, but with very faded features. It was referred to by explorers from the early 1900’s as “the statue that lies on its back.”

The Kalamba are just up the path from Maturu, and are vast stone cisterns, which are dotted across the valley. The Kalamba may have been used as baths or burial chambers for nobles and those of high status.

Oba, (Monkey) sits in the midst of a paddy field, and is a small statue, just barely over 40 cm from the ground. As its name suggests, this figure has amusingly monkey-like features.

GET THERE

To reach Bada Valley, one must first fly to Palu, a small city in Central Sulawesi. Mutiara Airport in Palu is a domestic only airport with flights available from JakartaSurabayaBalikpapanManado and Makassar.

Alternatively, if you love a good adventure, you could embark on the nine-hour, semi-off-road journey over land from Toraja. Either way, the plan is to end up in Tentena.

From Tentena, the best way to the valley is by foot, though it is also possible to go by bicycle, motorbike or jeep. The distance is about 50 km with a small shelter to mark the half-way point. The walk is a long, straight road that cuts through a tropical jungle and is crossed by small rivers in several places – another reason that makes travel by foot easier than by motorized vehicle. Along your walk, you may catch a glimpse of a few animals, namely macaque and deer.

Tips

A few tips: A guide is not necessary, but it would be a plus. You won’t get lost on the way to the valley, but you may have a hard time finding the megaliths. Bring proper walking shoes, and don’t forget your mosquito repellent.

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