Exploring Tana Toraja

Kamis, 28 Februari 2019
oleh Agung Salino
Exploring Tana Toraja

The Tana Toraja Regency (Toraja land) in South Sulawesi, is one of Indonesia’s best kept cultural secrets.  A place where a persons death is the most important event in one’s life, the unique culture and history of the region is fascinating. From the traditional villages of Ke’te Kesu and Sakonbong; the rice paddies to coffee plantations and the incredible cave burial site of Londa. If you love culture and are looking to get off the beaten path in Indonesia – or just want something completely different to Bali, Tana Toraja Indonesia must be at the top of your list.

Who are the Torajans?

Up until the 20th century, the Torajans had little awareness of themselves as a distinct ethnic group. Living in the highlands of South Sulawesi Indonesia, surrounded by mountains, cut off from the outside world and aware of only others like them, they identified themselves as simply members of their village and it was only the arrival of Dutch Missionaries in 1920 and the formal establishment of the Tana Toraja regency in 1957 that sparked a sense of ethnic consciousness and the push for cultural survival.

Toraja Societal Structure

Each village traditionally operated autonomously, and within each village, Torajan lived with three main types of affiliations: family, class and religion.

  • Family: Family is the primary social function in Toraja, which each village considered as one extended family. Kinship between the family is reciprocal with every member of the village assisting with farming, buffalo rituals and even debts. Each child born in the village belongs to both the mothers and fathers families and represent the only bilateral family line in Indonesia.
  • Class: In traditional Torajan society, family ties dictated your social class and were inherited from the mothers side of the family. There were three levels of class: nobles, commoners and slaves (although slavery was abolished in 1909) and it was taboo for a woman to marry ‘down’ – although marrying ‘up’ was a way to improve one’s social status.
  • Religion: Toraja’s indigenous belief system is called Aluk to dolo / Aluk Todolo (the way of the ancestors, or sometimes simply, the way.) Despite the majority of Torajans now identifying as Christian, they have continued to follow the beliefs of the Aluk in as such that the that the world is made up of three sections: the upper world (heaven), the world of man (earth), and the underworld. They believe that their ancestors came down from heaven via stairs, which were then used to as a medium to communicate with the creator. Aluk to dolo is not just a belief system, but a combination of law, religion and values which govern social life, agricultural practices and ancestral rituals.


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