Toraja Religion

Doctrines Toraja is from To-ri-aja, men of the mountains, the name that the Bugis to the south gave to these people, who live in the mountains in the north of the southwest peninsula of Sulawesi.
The traditional religion of the Torajans is called Aluk To Dolo. To Dolo means "people bygone," so the religion is "belief of the old" or "rituals of the ancestors." The religion is a complex mixture of ancestor cult, myth, and ritual. Aluk To Dolo was originally divided probably equally between a life half and a death half. The life half concerned fertility and was forbidden by the Christian missionaries, thus making the death half and the funeral of more importance as this was acceptable to the Church.
In major rituals the to minaa, a priest knowing tribal lore and history, recites a long litany of the origin of the tribe (see History). The cosmos is divided into the upper world, the world of man, and the underworld. At first heaven and earth were married together and there was darkness, then came separation and light. From the marriage emerged gods. Puang Matua, " the old lord," is the god of heaven and the main deity while Pong Banggai di Rante, "the master of the plains," is the god of earth. Pong Tulak Padang carries the earth in the palms of his hands and with Puang Matua he maintains the equilibrium of earth and separates day and night. But his bad-tempered wife Indo' Ongon-ongon can cause earthquakes and upset the equilibrium. Another feared god is Pong Lalondong, "the lord who is a cock," who judges the dead. Between heaven and earth is Gaun ti Kembong, "the swollen cloud." The goddess of medicine is Indo' Belo Tumbang, "the lady who dances beautifully." There are other gods in the upper world and the underworld, and on earth there are deata, deities and ghosts, that live in rivers, wells, trees, and stones.
Man's role is to help maintain equilibrium between the upper world and the underworld by rituals. There are two divisions of rituals. The Rambu Tuka, the Rising Sun or Smoke Ascending rituals are associated with the north and east, with joy and life. This includes rituals for birth, marriage, health, the house, the community, and rice. The Rambu Solo', the Setting Sun or Smoke Descending rituals are associated with the south and west, with darkness, night, and death. Healing rituals partake of both divisions. The most important Rambu Tuka ritual is the Bua' feast in which the buraka, a priestess or hermaphrodite priest, petitions the gods of heaven to look after the community. The Merok feast is for the benefit of a large family. Rambu Solo' rituals include great death feasts at funerals conducted by the death priest. These funerals are now the main feature of Toraja religion. Display of wealth is important for Torajans believe they will live in the afterworld as they do on earth, and the souls of sacrificed animals will follow their masters to heaven.
The afterworld is Puya, "the land of souls," which is to the southwest under the earth. By a lavish death feast the deceased will reach Puya. He is judged by Pong Lalondong and then climbs a mountain to reach heaven, where he joins the deified ancestors as a constellation which guards mankind and the rice.

History The to minaa priest recites the origin of the Toraja at important rituals. After telling of how the cosmos and the gods came into being (see Doctrines), he recounts that the to manurum, the first nobleman, descended from heaven bringing with him food plants and animals. He also brought a heavenly house and slaves and the complete social order. This included various types of priests, the to minaa, the to buraka, who is the highest religious functionary, the rice priest, and the medicine priest. But the important death priest is not mentioned. In Torajan history there were several descents of a nobleman.
Legend, however, says that the Torajans originally came from Cambodia, arriving in a storm from the northern seas. They used their battered boats as roofs of their houses.
Until the coming of missionaries in the nineteenth century the Torajans lived in almost complete isolation, one of the fiercest and most remote people in Indonesia. Coffee growing was introduced in the last quarter of the century and this began the process of social change. It was only in 1905-6 that the Dutch gained control over the Torajan mountains. They brought many changes to Torajan life and religion. Before the Dutch the people lived in fortified villages on the top of hills. They were moved to the valleys and agriculture was expanded, taxes and Christianity introduced. Before Dutch and mission schools the people knew only an oral tradition. Fertility aspects of the religion were stopped, as was the practice of offering freshly severed human heads at the end of a funeral. Buffalo were substituted for the human heads and these are raised on a large scale for ritual purposes, as a major death feast needs a sacrifice of about a hundred buffalo.
Further change came to the Torajans with the Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1945 and with the independence of Indonesia in 1949.
Despite the spread of Christianity and some Islam, there is still very strong adat, village ritual. But rituals can be mixed in with Christian practice, often in a fantastic way. For example, at The Feast of the Dead people attend church and afterwards buffalo are sacrificed.
Tourism has developed rapidly in recent years with package tours coming from France, Italy, and other countries. Tourists are mainly interested in seeing the lavish funerals and the government is encouraging the Torajans to spread the funerals through the year so that more tourists come. The government is trying to reduce the number of sacrifices at funerals by charging a local tax for animals killed past a certain number.

Symbols Houses are shaped like boats and all face north, symbolising the legend of the origin of the Torajans as coming by sea from Cambodia in the north.
Symbols of fertility are very significant in the religion despite the efforts of the missionaries. Most important is the buffalo, which the Torajans worship as a fertility cult figure. In dances headdresses of buffalo horn or symbolic horns are worn. At the Mabua ceremony held every twelve years, priests with buffalo headdresses dance around a sacred tree. In the Manganda dance a group of men wear huge headdresses of bulls' horns and silver coins. Eels are also revered as fertility symbols.
The final resting place of the dead is the liang, a family tomb high in a cliff safe from robbers, for gold and jewels are interred with the dead. Outside the tomb there is a platform or balcony carved into the cliff and here a tau tau or wooden effigy of the dead person is placed to represent the spirit. At the funeral also, bamboo effigies are made. Monuments to ancestors in the form of tall spires can be seen in the rante, special fields once used for large funerals.
As part of the important Mabua ceremony miniature implements of daily life are used.

Adherents There are about 325,000 Torajans (Nooy-Palm in Eliade 1987, Vol. 14, 565). In 1975 half of these practised Aluk To Dolo. Now this is estimated to be only 30 per cent. Of the remainder 60 per cent are Christian and 10 per cent Muslim (Dalton 1988, 845).

Main Centre
 Tanatoraja (TATOR), "Land of the Toraja People," with the main town Rantepao and administrative centre Makale on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia.