"Tana" means "land" or "earth, therefore, the name "Tana Toraja" can be translated to mean "the land of the Toraja people."
The Toraja people are an indigenous group living in the highlands of Sulawesi Island, Indonesia. They are known for their unique culture, especially their elaborate funeral ceremonies, rock-tombs and cave burial sites and distinctive architecture.
The Toraja are divided into several clans, and each clan has its own customs and traditions. They are mostly animists, which means they believe that all living and non-living things have a spirit or soul.
One of the most interesting traditions of the Toraja people is their funeral ceremonies, which can last for several days or even weeks. I didn't get a chance to see witness one.
A unique tradition of the Toraja people is their architecture. The traditional Toraja village community house, called a Tongkonan, is characterized by its boat-shaped (or rather, buffalo horn shape) roof and distinctive carvings on the walls and pillars. The roof is made of split bamboo, and the carvings often depict scenes from Toraja mythology or represent the family’s ancestors.
The same "buffalo horn" roof style is ubiquitous in Tana Toraja, and used for all Rice granaries and many homes.
Alang (Rice barns)
Tongkonan style roofs are also used on "alang" i.e. rice granaries (rice storage barns). They are traditional storage buildings used to preserve rice and other crops during the harvest season, providing a vital source of food for the community throughout the year.
The rice barns are usually built on wooden or bamboo stilts, which keep them elevated off the ground, protecting the contents from moisture and pests. The walls and roof of the granaries are made from woven bamboo, and the roof is often thatched with grass or palm leaves.
In villages, you often see a street with a row of rice granaries on one side, and houses on the other side, facing each other. Traditional houses look very similar with the same horn-shape roof, just larger.
One of the most remarkable features of Toraja burials is the use of rock-cut tombs. These tombs are carved out of solid rock cliffs, and they can range in size from small individual tombs to large communal tombs that can hold dozens of people. The tombs are often decorated with intricate carvings and sculptures, which reflect the status and wealth of the family.
Cave burials and Cliff Side Tombs
The Toraja people also bury their deceased in cliff-side tombs and in natural caves.
Once inside the cave, the coffin receives offerings and personal items belonging to the deceased. E.g. a heavy smoker will receive cigarette offerings.
Another interesting aspect of Toraja burials is the use of effigies called "Tau-tau" that represent the deceased. The effigies are life-size wooden sculptures with large open spooky eyes, and they are placed on a balcony above the rock tomb. They are like a dead persons looking day and night at the living people.
Megalith Menhirs / Memorial Stones
Toraja people erect Megalith Menhirs / Memorial Stones that they call "simbuang batu", to commemorate the deceased.
Water buffalo hold a significant place in the culture and economy of the Toraja people. In the Toraja society, owning water buffalo is a sign of wealth, status, and power. These animals play a vital role in various aspects of Toraja culture, including their traditional ceremonies, rituals, and offerings. The Toraja use water buffalo as a form of currency for buying and selling goods, and also as a gift or payment for marriage, funeral, or other significant events.
The Toraja believe that the more water buffaloes a family has, the more blessings and protection they will receive from the ancestral spirits.
In addition to their importance in the Toraja economy and culture, water buffalo are also a prominent feature of the Toraja's unique architecture. Many of the traditional Toraja houses, called tongkonan, feature carved wooden buffalo heads on their roof, which symbolize the family's status and wealth and offer protection and good fortune to the family and their house.
Torajan people place carved wooden buffalo statues or symbols on tombs. The Toraja believe that the water buffalo act as guardians for the spirits of the deceased, and they are also a way to honor the animal's sacrifice during funeral ceremonies. Buffalo heads are often highly detailed and carved with intricate designs, and they are placed on the tomb doors.
The Torajan people refer to the symbolic water buffalo as "pa'tedong". Pa is a sign of respect, like "Mr or Sir", and tedong means water buffalo.
In Toraja culture, buffalo horns are often displayed on their houses. The horns (of previously sacrificed buffaloes) are typically displayed staked on a pole in front of the house.
The horns are seen as a symbol of wealth and status, and they also reflect the family's ability to perform important ceremonies and rituals, which often involve the sacrifice of water buffalos.
The more horns, the more buffaloes were sacrificed, and the more important and respected the family is.
More information about the Toraja people: