Nobody really knows how old the Bada megaliths are, or who made them, or even why they're there. They probably date from the first millennium AD, but this figure is fairly debatable, depending on which scientist you consult. The locals don't have a clue – 'They've always been here,' is the most common response if you ask someone where the statues came from – and all this adds to a wonderful sense of mystery. Even more interestingly, all the objects in the area are made from a type of grey stone of which there are no deposits in the near vicinity, so work that one out; these megaliths are huge, heavy, and in the middle of nowhere, a long way from where they should be.
There are 14 statues in total, plus many large stone vats scattered along the 15km valley. In 1984 the government persuaded the locals to build some wooden houses next to some of the megaliths, which appear to serve no purpose, and some concrete walkways around some of the more famous statues. You would assume that this makes the megaliths easy to find – it's almost set up as a tourist destination, after all, just without the tourists – but it's never that easy.
Talk about finding a needle in a haystack. The Bada Valley is a farming area, smothered in paddy fields and little streams, and there's just no way you're going to find megaliths in something like that, especially with a map that looked great when I copied it down, but which proved to be pretty useless in the field. But where there's a will there's a way, and we just kept asking the local farmers where the megaliths were until, eventually, we realised that they were sending us in totally the wrong direction. And that's when we saw the house, complete with little kid and grandmother, who turned themselves into our guides for the morning.
Following this odd couple through the fields, we soon realised that finding megaliths was fine if you know where to look, but not so good if you don't. Luckily our guides managed the job fairly successfully, guiding us to all sorts of statues and large stone pots, and only getting lost a couple of times, and before you knew it we'd seen standing megaliths, sleeping megaliths, large pots, small pots and all sorts of odd stone shapes, all of which we would never have found alone. Returning to their house we gently knocked their initial demands for huge sums down to a more reasonable 3000rp, and then persuaded the old man of the house to take us to another megalith on our way out of the valley, all for another 2000rp and half a packet of cigarettes; this one turned out to be hidden inside a paddy field, along a network of paths that nobody could navigate without help. It all felt rather satisfying to have found the megaliths, but without resorting to the tourist trap of hiring an expensive guide for the day.
The megaliths we saw were among the best of the bunch, and trekking round the whole valley to find them all is a long and difficult process, only suited to those who live, breathe and eat megalith mythology. We got to see the following:
Palindo ('The Entertainer'), 4.5m. The largest statue in the area and the most celebrated, it is situated south of the tiny village of Sepe. It is perhaps a representation of Sepe's first mythological inhabitant, Tosaloge. A local legend tells of the Raja of Luwu, who once ordered 1800 of his subjects to move the statue from Sepe to Palopo (a very long way to the south) to prove his dominance over Bada, but the effort failed. The statue was said to originally face Luwu in the south, but the Bada people turned it to face the west as a snub to the Raja, and when the Raja's followers tried to turn it back, it fell onto its side, killing 200 of them. In the past, offerings were brought to this figure before embarking on any new enterprise, such as opening up a new garden. Whatever the legends, it's a wonderfully atmospheric sight.
Maturu ('Sleeping'), 3.5m. This statue lies on its back, and has good features, like a reclining Palindo. As with its bigger brother, it's a male; the erect genitals on both are a bit of a giveaway.
Mesinga ('Wearing a Scarf'). Actually, this looked more like a little penis and I didn't even waste a photograph on it. The features are very faded and if it wasn't in the Bada Valley, you'd think it was just a rock. It's only just up the path from the Kalamba, which are far more interesting.
Kalamba. These are vast stone cisterns, dotted all over the place, which may have been used as baths, or burial chambers for aristocrats. Some are better than others.
Oba ('Monkey'). This was the one that the old man took us to on the way out of the valley, and it's a real cutie. Only as high as a squatting man, its features are amusingly monkey-like and cheeky. It's right in the middle of a paddy field.
We could have seen more, but the rest of the walk beckoned, and after this many megaliths, we'd seen plenty. To be honest, it was a thrill just to find them, especially under our own steam.
That night we camped in the forest, just for the jungle experience, walking in the dark until we found a suitable spot to drop everything, set up the mozzie nets and sleep. It most definitely was an experience...