The History of Toraja

Tana Toraja. Or simply Toraja. This name was not invented by the Torajanese. They were called this way by their Bugis neighbors who lived to the south downstream of the main Toraja river Sa Dan.
Inside their region, in the local language, many people call their land Toraya. Toraja – is a common Indonesian name.
In the language of the Bugis taha - meant "land". To – was translated as "man." Rea - preposition "to." And "Aja" – over, upper. Torajanese were simply the inhabitants of the highlands, in contrast to the Bugis, the inhabitants of the lowlands. A Tana Toraja - the land of the highlanders.
This name became popular only in the early 20th century when the Dutch colonialists came to the region. Until that time the disparate clans of Torajanese associated themselves mainly with their villages. And everybody called themselves by the name of their village.
Toraja is the descendant of Austronesians. Five thousand years ago, they started to feel the pressure from the states developing on the territory of modern China. Austronesians moved from the mainland to Taiwan. And from Taiwan, they settled throughout Indonesia.
Among them were the ancestors of the Torajanese, Dayaks from Kalimantan, modern Bataknese, and Minangkabau from Sumatra. They were all divided territorially for several thousand years but maintained similar customs, architecture, and crafts. Similarities can be found in architecture, traditional symbolism, the style of decoration, the tradition of honoring the buffaloes, and much more.
Until the 20th century Toraja was not the united commonality. They were the clans from 500 to 20 000 people who were fighting for food resources in the harsh mountain area. There were no good roads and people were scattered in isolated villages. People often did not even dare to go beyond the village for fear of headhunters.
In Toraja, people were divided into three castes. And in the southern Toraja existed even higher caste, the fourth one. There were no clear names for these castes and often they had their names depending on the area.
First, the highest caste of the elite - "to makaka" is translated from Torajanese – as elder relative. It included free men, nobles and aristocrats.
The second caste - "to sama." Free, but not very wealthy people. They were engaged in agriculture and handicrafts.
And finally, the last one - third, "to kaunan" - a caste of slaves and dependent people. They were lower workers and performed the role of priests in some funeral rituals.
In the southern Toraja, in the neighborhood of Makale, all these castes were dominated by another caste of the aristocracy "to parenge" or "puan". While in the northern Toraja this caste was not recognized.
Another system people’s division into castes was a symbolic determination of their value. Higher caste had a name – “people with a gold core “- tana bulaan. The second cast - it was a cast of iron men – tana bassi. The third estate was represented by - tana karurung – “people made of sugar palm wood”. The fourth was – tana kua-kua – “people made of cane”.
Most of the population lived in the valley of the Sadan river on the territory between the present cities of Toraja - Rantepao, and Makale.
Trading and developing the economy was possible only with the neighbors from lowlands - Bugis and Luwu. Trade routes with the rest of the world were running through their lands.
But the history of Toraja is full of stories about Bugis and Luwu quarreling mountaineers in the struggle for profits. In many Torajanese legends, Bugis were sly and unjust people. They played up Torajanese in gambling using magic – especially in cockfights, cards and dice did not repay debts or were taking they wanted using the rough power.
The neighbors traded in peaceful times. Bugis and Torajanese married sometimes supporting the interests of politicians. Some Bugis princes intermarrying with the noble Torajanese women in favor of political expediency after some time ran away, leaving the family if their profits leveled.
Bugis and Luwu fought against Torajanese in turbulent times - taking them into captivity and using them as slaves. Raids of Makassarese and Bugis through Toraja lands to capture prisoners were common from the 16th century.
Sometimes united Toraja-Bugis troops seized the population of Torajanese villages, turning the residents into slaves. With the earned money Torajanese warlords were buying new weapons or performing pagan rituals.
Torajanese often fought among themselves. Local princes constantly staged military skirmishes, raids, killing, and abducting people for ransom in the power struggle. For a noble Torajanese, the village could pay up to 60 buffalo and a huge piece of land, to rescue a person from captivity.
Torajanese nobility was not so wealthy. The aristocracy could not accumulate wealth and was constantly struggling for recognition. Funeral rites for the nobility were very luxurious. When a prince was close to gathering wealth in his hands and some oа the relatives died a huge portion of the money was spent on the grandiose funeral.
The economy of Toraja has been a very modest long time. Usually, Torajanese was traveling down the river to the land of Bugis to exchange rice for fish and salt.
The economic revolution happened at the end of the 19th century. The demand for coffee increased dramatically in Europe. Before that, Toraja had been growing coffee for a long time. A couple of centuries ago it was brought by Arab merchants. But the coffee boom did not happen until the end of the 19th century.
Finally, the money flowed to Toraja. The nobility had no idea what to do with the sudden profit. They were buying luxuries. Indian textiles, Javanese batik, Chinese porcelain, gold, and silver coins.
A large part of sudden wealth was wasted on a more fanciful funeral. The roofs of horned Torajanese houses began to curve more and more above, and on the mass slaughtering of buffaloes more and more animals were killed.
Wealth brought the new strifes. To the east, was the Principality of Luwu. From the south - Sidenreng. The brand new British rifles from Singapore were arriving at the port of Sidenreng – Pare-Pare. The voices of weapons were decisive in the power struggle. Toraja was caught between two fires. That time the so-called coffee war happened in the history of Tana Toraja.
The Torajanese warlord Pong Tiku became the most famous figure during this war. In alliance with the Principality Sidenreng, the squads of Pong Tiku were fiercely burning the torajanese villages that refused to submit to him and his allies. Thу squads of Pong Tiku were killing men, women, and children in raids on neighboring villages.
During the raids of Pong Tiku some areas of Toraja have lost 90% of the adult male population.
The force, which put an end to local conflicts came to Toraja in 1906. It was - the Dutch colonialists.
By the early 20th century, the Dutch had ruled Indonesia for about 3 centuries.
The Dutch have got a lot of problems during the fights strong Muslim Aceh principality who was fiercely struggling for independence.
In the end, the Dutch conquered Aceh and decided to take up the regions not covered by their authority, nor Islam. Toraja was a pagan spot in South Sulawesi, where the Dutch came in 1905.
Most areas of Toraja considered it wiser to cooperate with the Dutch. But two areas, grown rich on the coffee harvest and armed to the teeth - have raised a guerrilla war. One area was well-armed by the fact that it was situated in the southern coffee triangle. Second - in the northern coffee belt. The wealth of it was in the hands of Pong Tiku, who did not want to lose power.
He led the struggle against the colonial troops. And as a result of participation in this fight, he remains a hero in the history and folk memory to this day. There are the monuments for Pong Tiku in Torajanese cities, and his tomb in the village of Pangala is one of the local attractions.
Not all the Torajanese in the early 20th century get lucky to get the modern British rifle. Many Torajanese waged war using conventional weapons - tirrik lada. It was a long tube that allowed to spit into the eyes of the enemy with a mixture of water and pepper.
Torajanese was perfectly adapted to the war on its territory. But the soldiers of the colonial army, recruited from the inhabitants of the warm regions of Indonesia - Javanese, Timorese Ambonese were constantly freezing in extreme temperatures at 2000 m altitude.
After a year of war in the surroundings of Pangala, with the help of heavy artillery and grenades, the resistance was broken. Pong Tiku was captured. He tried to escape and raised the resistance movement again several times. As a result, he was shot in the creek near the prison in Rantepao, where he went for a bathe. According to the official sources - while trying to escape.
The Fort of Pong Tiku did not survive to the present day, but its location is marked with a symbolic Torajanese carved home. This place still has no good roads, and nothing breaks the silence of the old historical place.
The Dutch conducted a population census and sent their new labor to work on the plantations. They introduced a four percent tax for all adults. Those who could not pay the tax – were awarded additional hours of forced labor.
But in addition to the problems the Dutch brought to Tana Toraja three benefits - healthcare, education, and Christianity.
Healthcare was met in Toraja unconditionally.
The problems began education and religion. The faith and lifestyle of Torajanese were associated with the worship of the spirits, caste system, including slavery. Torajanese was far from Christianity. Meanwhile, the Dutch education was universal. And Christianity proclaimed people equal.
Though the representatives of the lower castes were excited and rushed first to receive the fruits of Christianity and education.
But the aristocracy was hostile. It was afraid that Christianity and education will rob its prestige and power. Therefore the nobility did not hurry to send their children to get Dutch education. Also, is was afraid that trained children will be picked up into the colonial army and sent to fight in distant corners of the archipelago.
Most representatives of the higher castes substituted their children at schools with children of slaves. As a result, many poor kids were able to get a good education and make a career in the colonial administration.
The Dutch fought for assimilation so hard that sometimes Torajanese school truants were sought by military units. Careless children were sent to school, and their parents were put behind the bars to put to shame.
The Dutch founded two cities Makale and Rantepao that are still the only cities in Toraja. Before that, in their places, there were just large settlements.
The Dutch managed to convert to Christianity only a tenth of the Torajanese by 1950 after four decades of missionary work.
But there were some positive results of missionary work. Slavery and ritual headhunting vanished in Toraja because of the Dutch influence.
Japanese invaders came to Toraja In 1942, during the Second World War. There were no fights. But the region was used by Japanese and a source of provisions.
The rice was confiscated. Torajanese were hiding pigs and buffaloes in the mountains and forests so that they could not be revealed by the Japanese.
Torajanese impoverished so much that the traditional clothing - sarongs sometimes had to be cut and divided between four people. In some families, for going out some members of the families were wearing sarongs in turn while those without them were staying at home.
Japanese were defeated during the Second World War. But returning of the Dutch met a strong resistance throughout the South Sulawesi. There were guerrilla groups in Toraja, too. But they were using a delay tactic. Finally, in December 1949, Indonesia has got independence.
But the independence movement has gone much further in some regions of Indonesia.
In 1948, a group of radical Muslims founded Darul Islam movement - the abode of Islam. The creation of the Islamic Republic in Sulawesi was one of their goals.
Torajanese did not fit that plan with their animistic pagan religion.
In the Torajanese faith, Aluk Todolo pigs were sacrificed for the sanctification of marriage, a new home, crop, or funeral. A pig in Islam - is an unclean animal.
Torajanese worshiped spirits and created a wooden statue of the deceased, which was a shelter for the soul of the deceased. An image of a human in Islam is forbidden.
Puang Matua was the supreme god in Toraja. But he was not the only one. Torajanese worshiped besides the spirits of their ancestors. Islam accepts only one god - Allah.
A campaign of converting Torajanese into Muslims was tough. Many traditional Torajanese houses were burned to ashes. Roads and bridges were destroyed. Just in 1965, the leader of the Islamic radicals Kahar Muzakkar was killed.
Torajanese had only one choice during the civil war - to stand under the protection of Christianity, which was much softer than Islam.
Thus, a Christian island of Toraja appeared on the map of predominantly Muslim South Sulawesi. But Torajanese have not forgotten their faith and began to combine Christian religion with the old pagan rituals.
In 1965 a coup happened in Indonesia. The pro-Soviet President Sukarno was overthrown by the military junta of General Suharto during this overturn. The islands of Java, Bali, Sumatra were covered by the mass slaughter. The destruction of the Communists, Communist sympathizers, and all those suspected of having links with communists was going full speed.
The military banned organizations and individuals to support the families associated with the communists in Toraja. Through the policy of social exclusion, the Torajanese traditions of good neighborliness and mutual assistance were being destroyed.
In the 70s more and more Torajanese began to leave their land to study and work abroad in their region. The income received by them in Kalimantan, Papua, and Jawa began to revive the economy. Roads were repaired, traditions restored, carved ancestral home tongkonans partly rebuilt.
The tourist boom came to Toraja. Visitors from Europe and America were drawn to this unique culture.
The Golden years of Toraja tourism were the beginning of the nineties. More than two hundred thousand tourists from abroad and from Indonesia were visiting the region every year.
In the postwar years, Toraja culture was considered as more primitive in Indonesia. But the interest of tourists helped Toraja to reassess their views on their culture and caused a renaissance.
The newly opened hotels and restaurants created jobs for Toraja. Some torajanese finished local history courses and began to work as guides. The Airport of Rantetayo was functioning connecting Toraja with Makassar – the largest city in Sulawesi.
The Asian financial crisis happened in 1997 causing a local crisis in Indonesia. Travel to Toraja fell into disrepair.
The airport was closed and the guests of Toraja were left with just bus service. It is possible to get to Tana Toraja from Makassar by bus in 9 hours.
Nowadays Toraja is a quiet tourist area. Not as noisy as Bali - the main tourist attraction. But no less peculiar and exotic.
The main towns of Toraja Rantepao and Makale lie at an altitude of about 800 meters above the sea level. It's hot during the day and cools at night. According to the last census, about four hundred thousand (414,000) live in Toraja. Approximately the same as in Malta or Brunei.
But many Torajanese live outside of their region and even outside Indonesia.
Makala – is the administrative center of Toraja. It is hard to find the tourists here. The city is not rich in monuments and places of interest aside from the main square with a monument to a warlord Pong Tiku.
Rantepao situated 18 kilometers from Makale is the center of tourism and business. Rantepao is translated as "rante" - that is, the field near the village for ceremonies. “Pao” in Torajanese is mango.
In fact "Pao" - was the home village of one of the last Toraja warlords - Pong Maramba. He persuaded the Dutch to name the new in honor of his village.
Most of the Toraja hotels are concentrated in Rantepao. There is a market that sells traditional crafts, as well as the region's largest market selling buffaloes.
You can often hear the Indonesian language in Rantepao and Makale which is the official throughout Indonesia. But in the villages of Toraja, like many centuries ago, people are speaking their language.
Indonesian as well as Torajanese come from the same Austronesian language family. But Torajanese is different vocabulary and grammar are different from the Indonesian.
Moreover, Torajanese has two levels. First one - normal conversational. The second one - an ancient, tall, poetic, and rich in colorful metaphors. It is spoken by the priests of a traditional religion Aluk To Dolo. And not every Torajanese person can understand the prayers and songs in high Torajanese that sound during religious ceremonies.
Sometimes in the evenings during the ceremonies, Torajanese grannies gather to sing the songs of folklore. They sing many of them in high language. The younger generation of Toraja, can not always translate their meaning even though it knows the conversational language.
The caste still exists in Toraja but the difference is not so clear anymore.
It seems natural for the average Torajanese that the aristocracy should be wealthy and rich. And such a person naturally enjoys special honor in Toraja.
But often in reality the financial viability of some of the representatives of slaves’ and commoners’ caste is financially better of the aristocrats. The commoners do not need to spend money on expensive rituals. They can invest more money in their business or improve their living conditions.
But if you ask a Torajanese from the higher caste, whether a person from the caste of slaves can be richer than an aristocrat, it is possible to get an answer, that even if the former slave would have a million dollars in a funeral ceremony he will not be able to take pride to sit on the first row. This place is only for the nobility. Therefore, the person from the caste of slaves will not be able to become rich no matter how much mon he has.
Toraja cherishes their faith. A Christian priest usually conducts prayers during any major holiday. But the same day the pagan rituals are held under the supervision of the pagan priest To Minaa. So current rituals of Toraja – are a combination of Christian and pagan ones.
This life of real Toraja life takes place in villages. Away from the cities, as many centuries ago, the Torajanese grow rice and buffaloes, build their carved wooden tongkonan houses, conduct multi-day festivals over the funerals of their countrymen, and speak their special language.