Who are the Toraja? - Azimuth Adventure Travel Ltd
Who are the Toraja?

Who are the Toraja?

Mar 15 2024

Celebes or Sulawesi is an island in Indonesia located east of Borneo, south of the Philippines and northeast of Java. With an area of 174,600 km2, it is the fourth largest island in the archipelago (and the eleventh largest island in the world) but its population (17.4 million inhabitants in 2010) represents only 7% of the population of the country. Its relief, rather rugged, is mainly covered with tropical forest. Portuguese navigators were the first to refer to this island by calling it “Celebes”, its name Sulawesi probably coming from the words Sula (island) and Besi (iron) mineral rare in the Indonesian archipelago and whose southern part The island is rich.


In the heart of the southern mountains of the island lives a fascinating ethnic group called the Toraja. Their population is approximately 650,000 people, of which 450,000 still live in the district of Tana Toraja (the land of the Torajas). A large majority of them are of the Protestant religion or animist belief called Aluk To Dolo (the Way of the Ancestors). The term “Toraja” comes from the Bugis language (coastal ethnic group) meaning “People of the Highlands”.


Traditional Toraja society


  Who are the Toraja?  


Magnificent region, with impressive mountain landscapes where the valleys are covered with rice fields and lush vegetation and where the architecture of bamboo and wooden houses, like the prows of gigantic boats, are covered with sculptures and engravings with motifs unique. Traditional Toraja society places great importance on the family: each village is made up of one and the same family in the broad sense and whose heart is the traditional ancestral house called Tongkonan. Toraja society also originally gave a very large place to social classes, separating the nobles, the commoners and the slaves (slavery was abolished by the Dutch colonial administration in 1909). But the most visible current trace of this unique traditional society is found in the funeral rites which take a crucial place in the life of the Toraja and are particularly spectacular.


Toraja funeral rites


  Who are the Toraja?  


An official burial can take place long after death, because it is necessary to accumulate a large amount of wealth (in sacrificial animals in particular), in order to honor the memory of the deceased. The unique characteristic of the Toraja is the burial in tombs dug into cliffs, with balconies where dolls bearing the likeness of the deceased are placed. Each vault sheltering members of the same family. The tau-tau (a word derived from tau or to, "person"), wooden effigies, are placed in niches next to the tombs. Sculpted in the image of the deceased, they honor their memory. Thus the living can contemplate the dead and vice versa.


Funeral celebrations often bring together up to several thousand people. Mortuary rituals give rise to numerous buffalo sacrifices. The Torajas believe that buffaloes accompany the deceased to the land of the dead. To help him maintain his rank in the afterlife, as many as possible are immolated, a sign of prestige. In the light of funeral rites, myths and beliefs, the cult of the dead in Toraja country is extremely complex and fascinating. There are also magnificent traditions of community dances and songs during ceremonies.


The economy of the Toraja country


The economy of the Toraja country is essentially agricultural (rice, cassava and corn) as well as livestock, but it is also in this region that excellent coffee, famous throughout the world, grows. Finally, since the 1980s, tourism has become an important source of income.


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