Tana Toraja Culture and Social Life Overview, South Sulawesi

Tana Toraja Culture

Tana Toraja or Toraja is one of the beautiful region at South Sulawesi Province. From the distance, one can see the jagged edges of the hill stretching side by side along the slop of the mountains. Moreover, one can be also find beautiful valleys in which bamboo and sugar palms are growing and the traditional houses with curved roof among the paddy field, beautiful and naturally carved and colored by the skill full people of Toraja.

The Toraja people live in the highlands of South Sulawesi. The word Toraja comes from the Buginese language's "to riaja", meaning "people of the uplands".

Most of the population is indigenous belief system is polytheistic animism, called Aluk ("the way"), Indonesian government has recognized this animist belief as Aluk To Dolo ("Way of the Ancestors"). In the Toraja myth, the ancestors of Torajan people came down from heaven using stairs, which were then used by the Torajans as a communication medium with Puang Matua, the Creator. The cosmos, according to Aluk, is divided into the upper world (heaven), the world of man (earth), and the underworld. At first, heaven and earth were married, then there was a darkness, a separation, and finally the light. Animals live in the underworld, which is represented by rectangular space enclosed by pillars, the earth is for mankind, and the heaven world is located above, covered with a saddle-shaped roof. Other Toraja Gods include Pong Banggai di Rante (god of Earth), Indo' Ongon-Ongon (a goddess who can cause earthquakes), Pong Lalondong (god of death), and Indo' Belo Tumbang (goddess of medicine); and other population is Christian, and others are Muslim.

The earthly authority, whose words and actions should be cleaved to both in life (agriculture) and death (funerals), is called To Minaa (an aluk priest). Aluk is not just a belief system; it is a combination of law, religion, and habit. Aluk governs social life, agricultural practices, and ancestral rituals. The details of aluk may vary from one village to another. One common law is the requirement that death and life rituals be separated. Torajans believe that performing death rituals might ruin their corpses if combined with life rituals. The two rituals are equally important. During the time of the Dutch missionaries, Christian Torajans were prohibited from attending or performing life rituals, but were allowed to perform death rituals. Consequently, Toraja's death rituals are still practiced today, while life rituals have diminished.

The Toraja people enjoy great longevity surely something to do with the cool climate and active lifestyle from infancy to old age. They spend their lives growing excellent fragrant rice, raising magnificent buffalo, especially the highly valued pink albino strains. Their work is interspersed with dramatic ceremonies. Harvest festivals and house warming festivals, are times for feasting and a gathering of the clan, times to wear their best costumes and jewellery, bring out the tuak (a local brew) and party for days on end, times for singing and dancing and, of course, eating. These are also times for neighbours and clan members to pay their respects and to pay back obligations that may date back generations.

Culture and Social Life.
Family is the primary social and political grouping in Torajan society. Each village is one extended family, the seat of which is the Tongkonan, a traditional Torajan house. Each Tongkonan has a name, which becomes the name of the village. The familial dons maintain village unity. Marriage between distant cousins (fourth cousins and beyond) is a common practice that strengthens kinship. Toraja society prohibits marriage between close cousins (up to and including the third cousin) except for nobles, to prevent the dispersal of property. Kinship is actively reciprocal, meaning that the extended family helps each other farm, share buffalo rituals, and pay off debts.

Each person belongs to both the mother's and the father's families, the only bilateral family line in Indonesia. Children, therefore, inherit household affiliation from both mother and father, including land and even family debts. Children's names are given on the basis of kinship, and are usually chosen after dead relatives. Names of aunts, uncles and cousins are commonly referred to in the names of mothers, fathers and siblings.

Before the start of the formal administration of Toraja villages by the Tana Toraja Regency, each Toraja village was autonomous. In a more complex situation, in which one Toraja family could not handle their problems alone, several villages formed a group; sometimes, villages would unite against other villages. Relationship between families was expressed through blood, marriage, and shared ancestral houses (tongkonan), practically signed by the exchange of buffalo and pigs on ritual occasions. Such exchanges not only built political and cultural ties between families but defined each person's place in a social hierarchy: who poured palm wine, who wrapped a corpse and prepared offerings, where each person could or could not sit, what dishes should be used or avoided, and even what piece of meat constituted one's share.

Class Affiliation.
In early Toraja society, family relationships were tied closely to social class. The structure of the caste of Torajan people according to Aluk are :

  • Tana Bulaan (Tana = caste, Bulaan = gold) Nobles never marry lower class people. Moreover, if someone divorces his/her spouse, then he/she has to pay 24 buffaloes to the divorced his/her spouse.
  • Tana Bassi (Tana = caste, Bassi = iron) Lower than Tana Bulaan. A person has to pay 10 buffaloes to his/her divorced spouse..
  • Tana Karurung (common people) a person has to pay 2 buffaloes to his/her divorced spouse..
  • Tana Kuakua (slaves) there are still some people in certain areas having slaves to take care of their rice farm. The slaves are paid and given adequate food. In the past, slaves were not paid.

In general there were three strata: nobles, commoners, and slaves (slavery was abolished in 1909 by the Dutch East Indies government). Class was inherited through the mother. It was taboo, therefore, to marry "down" with a woman of lower class. On the other hand, marrying a woman of higher class could improve the status of the next generation. The nobility's condescending attitude toward the commoners is still maintained today for reasons of family prestige.

Nobles, who were believed to be direct descendants of the descended person from heaven, lived in Tongkonans, while commoners lived in less lavish houses (bamboo shacks called Banua). Slaves lived in small huts, which had to be built around their owner's Tongkonan. Commoners might marry anyone, but nobles preferred to marry in-family to maintain their status. Sometimes nobles married Bugis or Makassarese nobles. Commoners and slaves were prohibited from having death feasts. Despite close kinship and status inheritance, there was some social mobility, as marriage or change in wealth could affect an individuals status. Wealth was counted by the ownership of water buffaloes.

Slaves in Toraja society were family property. Sometimes Torajans decided to become slaves when they incurred a debt, pledging to work as payment. Slaves could be taken during wars, and slave trading was common. Slaves could buy their freedom, but their children still inherited slave status. Slaves were prohibited from wearing bronze or gold, carving their houses, eating from the same dishes as their owners, or having sex with free women-a crime punishable by death.

The ethnic Toraja language is dominant in Tana Toraja with the main language is the Sa'dan Toraja. Although the national Indonesian language is the official language and is spoken in the community, all elementary schools in Tana Toraja teach Toraja language.

Language varieties of Toraja, including Kalumpang, Mamasa, Tae' , Talondo' , Toala' , and Toraja-Sa'dan, belong to the Malayo-Polynesian language from the Austronesian family. At the outset, the isolated geographical nature of Tana Toraja formed many dialects between the Toraja languages themselves. After the formal administration of Tana Toraja, some Torajans dialects have been influenced by other languages through the transmigration program, introduced since the colonialism period, and it has been a major factor in the linguistic variety of Toraja languages.

A prominent attribute of Toraja language is the notion of grief. The importance of death ceremony in Toraja Culture has characterized their languages to express intricate degrees of grief and mourning. The Toraja language contains many terms referring sadness, longing, depression, and mental pain. It is a catharsis to give a clear notion about psychological and physical effect of loss, and sometimes to lessen the pain of grief itself.

Rice is the staple. It is eaten at every meal. If there is enough money to buy vegetables in the market, or if the family is growing them at home, they are eaten on the side with the rice. Chickens are occasionally killed and eaten. After funeral or other ceremonies, there is usually pork or buffalo meat. Everyone seems to have some type of fruit trees, including mango, papaya, pineapple, bananas.

Traditional cuisine is the bamboo food: pork, chicken, or fish cooked for about an hour in a bamboo tube over an open fire outside. Chicken bamboo is made of sliced bamboo, chicken pieces, ginger, onion, garlic, and ground coconut. Pork and fish bamboo is made of the meat, green vegetables, and onion and garlic. Vegetables are always peeled and cooked before they are eaten. No-one eats salads. Food is usually left to cool off before it is eaten, and then it is eaten with the hands.
Sweet treats are made with rice, mung beans, and palm sugar. Before rice, people ate manioc as the staple. Traditionally, there were only two meals - one at about 11 a.m., and one at about 6:30/7 p.m. But now more people are eating three meals a day.

Traditionally, men and women do not eat together. Women and girls serve the men and boys first, and after they are finished eating, the women and girls eat what is left over. Guests are always served first, as well. Traditional bowls were made of wood. Dishes are cleaned with char from the wood fire, then rinsed several times in buckets of water. This is ecologically sound, although the black char can get on clothes and skin and make a mess. Traditionally, people ate on unrolled rattan mats on the floor. Now, they usually eat at a table. During the day, however, when the houses are hot, people eat on the rice barn platforms, on rattan mats.

Dance and Music/Instrument.
Torajans perform dances on several occasions, most often during their elaborate funeral ceremonies. They dance to express their grief, and to honor and even cheer the deceased person because he is going to have a long journey in the afterlife. First, a group of men form a circle and sing a monotonous chant throughout the night to honor the deceased a ritual called "Ma'badong. This is considered by many Torajans to be the most important component of the funeral ceremony. On the second funeral day, the Ma'randing warrior dance is performed to praise the courage of the deceased during life. Several men perform the dance with a sword, a large shield made from buffalo skin, a helmet with a buffalo horn, and other ornamentation. The Ma'randing dance precedes a procession in which the deceased is carried from a rice barn to the Rante, the site of the funeral ceremony. During the funeral, elder women perform the "Ma'katia" dance while singing a poetic song and wearing a long feathered costume. The "Ma'katia" dance is performed to remind the audience of the generosity and loyalty of the deceased person. After the bloody ceremony of buffalo and pig slaughter, a group of boys and girls clap their hands while performing a cheerful dance called Ma'dondan.
As in other agricultural societies, Torajans dance and sing during harvest time. The "Ma'bugi" dance celebrates the thanksgiving event, and the "Ma'gandangi" dance is performed while Torajans are pounding rice. There are several war dances, such as the "Manimbong" dance performed by men, followed by the "Ma'dandan" dance performed by women. The Aluk religion governs when and how Torajans dance. A dance called "Ma'bua" can be performed only once every 12 years. "Ma'bua" is a major Toraja ceremony in which priests wear a buffalo head and dance around a sacred tree.

A traditional musical instrument of the Toraja is a bamboo flute called a "Pa'suling" suling is an Indonesian word for flute. This six-holed flute not unique to the Toraja is played at many dances, such as the thanksgiving dance "Ma'bondensan", where the flute accompanies a group of shirtless, dancing men with long fingernails. The Toraja have indigenous musical instruments, such as the "Pa'pelle" made from palm leaves and the "Pa'karombi" the Torajan version of a Jew's harp. The "Pa'pelle" is played during harvest time and at house inauguration ceremonies.

Everything is shared: food, clothes, money, possessions of all types. Once you are in the community, you are expected to share what you have. At the same time, people will share everything with you. Because of this, there is no such thing as privacy. Everyone knows everything about everybody. There are no shut doors, and no personal boundaries. The community, the family, the group, are more important than the individual. Whatever money one member of the family earns, she/he must share with the rest of the family. Children who make money share it with their family members. When people are given a present, it is not normal for them to say thank you and express any emotion. No-one feels the slightest bit embarrassed about asking anyone for anything.

The traditional alcoholic beverage is "Tuak," the fermented sap from a special kind of palm tree. The trees are cut open and the sap runs into bamboo tubes. This is then transported to town and sold beside the road. Because there is nothing added to Tuak, it is extremely pure and unadulterated, and a lot can be drunk before any negative effects are felt.
The younger people and the people with money now prefer beer, probably because it seems more modern and is a status symbol. But it is much more expensive than Tuak.

Division of Labour.
Since rice is the staple, the growing and harvesting of it is extremely important. Generally, men work in the rice fields before the harvest. They break up the ground, build mud walls between fields, and sometimes use water buffalo for ploughing. Women plant the rice, transplant the seedlings, and harvest the rice. Men sometimes help with the harvest. Children of both genders help the women. Cooking is done by the women. The kitchen is the women's realm. Men and women slaughter chickens, and sometimes the men will cook the traditional bamboo food outside.
Men do chores outside, such as build things, fix things, and keep things in order.

Marriages used to be arranged, and only between members of the same caste. You were not allowed to marry someone from another caste. Families got richer this way, as the combined wealth of two rich families would make an even richer big family. Now, some marriages are still arranged, but it is more common for "love marriages" to take place. Although marriage between members of different castes is permitted, it is still not common, because of the economic factor. No-one wants a financial liability. During wedding ceremonies, the bride and groom are supposed to look as serious as possible.
After marriage, the man always goes and lives in the woman's village, with her family. Houses are owned by the women of the family. Traditionally, the husband's family had to give the bride's family a number of buffaloes.

The more animals you have, the richer you are. The ultimate aim is to have a lot of chickens, pigs, and water buffalo.
Chickens are treated the way dogs are treated in the West; they are coddled, carried around, and cosseted. They always have the run of the farm. The biggest and strongest rooster rules over the entire flock, including all the hens. The rival roosters who have lost out to the biggest one have to stay isolated in baskets.
Pigs are kept in small wooden pens and fed for years until they are really fat.
Buffaloes live in the rice fields and spend a lot of time lolling nostril deep in water. There are buffalo wallows in the fields.
Goldfish are also kept in the rice fields, and so are ducks. At the end of the day, the ducks are herded home and kept overnight in a basket.
Dogs have the run of the farm, but they are not patted and treated as pets. They are mainly there as alarms so you always know when someone is arriving.
Cats live in the kitchen and are kept to keep the mice away. Cats are not touched or played with. They are considered dirty.
Cats and dogs eat kitchen scraps and leftovers. Pigs eat a special slop made of third-rate rice, water, and kitchen scraps. Chickens eat cooked and uncooked rice. Buffaloes eat grass.

It is considered rude to show very much of your body, although standards are more relaxed in Toraja than in other parts of Indonesia. Men and boys wear shorts around the home. Even younger women now wear long shorts at home.
To go outside, however, men wear long pants, and women also wear long pants, or skirts. Sleeveless tops are taboo. Sleeves below the elbow are considered ideal. Most people wear rubber flip flops on their feet. The people who have money wear leather shoes or running shoes. The poorest people do not wear anything on their feet. Men and women wear sarongs to relax at home, although the younger people tend to wear sarongs less now. Young women, especially, do not wear sarongs, except expensive ikat sarongs at ceremonies. Everyone, male and female alike, desires expensive Western blue jeans and T-shirts. Jeans, running shoes, and T-shirts are considered very hip. No-one swims in a bathing suit. Men wear shorts or underwear, and women wear shorts and t-shirts. There is nothing wrong with men wearing bright, gaudy colors.

Community and Clan.
Toraja people have a very strong sense of identity and culture. No matter where they live, they will always consider themselves to be Toraja first. They are proud of their culture. They have their own language, and it is through speaking this language that they most strongly assert their uniqueness. Toraja people who have returned home after living away and not speaking Toraja are encouraged to begin speaking the language again.
The land of Toraja also relates very strongly to the hearts of the people.

Traditional Ceremony.
Torajanese was have unique traditional ceremony thats its interesting to be seen called Rambu Solo. Rambu Solo is customary ritual death in Tana Toraja society that aims to respect the spirit and the people who deliver death to the spirit, which is returned to the immortality with their ancestors in a health resort, called Puyo, which is located in the south where people live. The ceremony is often also called the completion ceremony of death ...

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