3 Things about Tana Toraja

Toraja is strongly attached with tradition related with funeral and its ceremonies. Located in the northern part of South Sulawesi, Tana Toraja highland is the home for Toraja indigenous group that still preserve and apply their ancestors’ heritages. Wander around Tana Toraja, visitors’ eyes will definitely be fascinated by at least three things: the houses, the tombs and the ceremonies.

The traditional house of Toraja is called Tongkonan, which means a place to gather. It functions as the center of Torajan life and embodies the connection between them and their ancestors. Its huge roof is shaped like buffalo’s horns and dominated by red, black and shades of brown. The house is made of bamboo and woods and it has solid construction although still uses traditional woodworking joints. All Tongkonan are facing north because, for the Torajan, north represents life.

Aside from the challenging work of building Tongkonan, the Torajan also build marvelous tombs for the deceased. For adults, they carve graves on unthinkable places such as on a side of rocky cliffs or gigantic stones where they will lay or hang the deceased bodies. On each grave, they put Tau-Tau, a puppet representing the deceased. Meanwhile, there are also hanging graves for babies. They were hung using ropes on a cliff or tree and kept for years until the ropes rot and these graves fall to the ground.

Last, but not least, Rambu Solok, the burial ceremony that is impressive especially in terms of scale and festivities. According to the Torajan, death is not an occasion for sorrow. It is a notable milestone in life that is as joyful as birth. Therefore, funeral is regarded as celebration that involved everyone related to the deceased because it reinforces the eternal bond between the dead and the living. In this society, instead of wedding, funeral marks a family’s status. This funeral ritual can be attended by many people and lasted for days, depending on the social status of the deceased, and it certainly requires major fund. Water buffaloes really play an important role of the tradition in Toraja as they represent wealth. A certain type of water buffalo can even be bought with a price of an SUV. The number of water buffaloes slaughtered during this ceremony indicates the social level of the deceased. The animals are sacrificed to accompany the spirit of the deceased during their journey to the land of the dead.

These preserved heritage of tradition and local wisdom, regardless of the hustle and bustle of external pressures, indeed make the life of people in Tana Toraja admirable. Their efforts to sustain such cultural wealth are reflected in the infrastructure development where roads, tourism spots, public facilities and electricity are provided to strengthen the traditions instead of to eliminate them. Various means of transportation to Tana Toraja are available from Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi equipped with an international airport, making it easy for everyone to visit and experience this wonderful highland.

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Eka Iswahyuni

She is an engineer who currently works in Balikpapan, loves traveling and plans to visit all of the big islands in Indonesia. She also loves to take pictures, to write stories and to make new friends.

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