Toraja - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Christianity is central to contemporary Toraja identity, and most of the population has converted to Christianity (81 percent in 1983). Only about 11 percent continue to practice the traditional religion of Aluk to Dolo (Ways of the Ancestors). These adherents are primarily elderly and there is speculation that the "Ways of the Ancestors" will be lost within a few generations. There are also some Muslims (8 percent), primarily in the southern areas of Tana Toraja. The cult of the ancestors plays an important role in the autochthonous religion of Aluk to Dolo. Ritual sacrifices are made to the ancestors who, in turn, will protect the living from illness and misfortune. According to Aluk to Dolo the cosmos is divided into three spheres: the underworld, the earth, and the upperworld. Each of these worlds is presided over by its own gods. These realms are each associated with a cardinal direction, and particular types of rite are geared toward particular directions. For example, the southwest represents the underworld and the dead, while the northeast represents the upperworld of the deified ancestors. The dead are believed to voyage to a land called "Puya," somewhere to the southwest of the Toraja highlands. Provided one manages to find the way to Puya and one's living relatives have carried out the necessary (and costly) rituals, one's soul may enter the upperworld and become a deified ancestor. The majority of the dead, however, remain in Puya living a life similar to their previous life and making use of the goods offered at their funeral. Those souls unfortunate enough not to find their way to Puya or those without funeral rites become bombo, spirits who threaten the living. Funeral ceremonies thus play a critical role in maintaining the harmony of the three worlds. Christian Toraja also sponsor modified funeral rituals. In addition to the bombo (those who died without funerals), there are spirits who reside in particular trees, stones, mountains, or springs. Batitong are terrifying spirits who feast on the stomachs of sleeping people. There are also spirits that fly at night ( po'pok ) and werewolves ( paragusi ). Most Christian Toraja say that Christianity has driven out such supernaturals.

Religious Practitioners. Traditional ceremonial priests ( to minaa ) officiate at most Aluk to Dolo functions. Rice priests ( indo' padang ) must avoid death-cycle rituals. In prior times there were transvestite priests ( burake tambolang ). There are also healers and shamans.

Ceremonies. Ceremonies are divided into two spheres: smoke-rising rites ( rambu tuka ) and smoke-descending rites ( rambu solo' ). Smoke-rising rites address the life force (offerings to the gods, harvest thanksgivings, etc.), whereas smoke-descending rites are concerned with death.

Arts. In addition to elaborately carved tongkonan houses and rice barns, life-sized effigies of the dead are carved for certain wealthy aristocrats. In the past these effigies ( tautau ) were very stylized, but recently they have become very realistic. Textiles, bamboo containers, and flutes may also be adorned with geometric motifs similar to those found on the tongkonan houses. Traditional musical instruments include the drum, Jew's harp, two-stringed lute, and gong. Dances are generally found in ceremonial contexts, although tourism has also prompted traditional dance performances.

Medicine. As in other parts of Indonesia, illness is often attributed to winds in the body or the curses of one's enemies. In addition to traditional healers, Western-style doctors are consulted.

Death and Afterlife. The funeral is the most critical lifecycle event, as it allows the deceased to leave the world of the living and proceed to Puya. Funeral ceremonies vary in length and complexity, depending on one's wealth and status. Each funeral is carried out in two parts: the first ceremony ( dipalambi'i ) occurs just after death in the tongkonan house. The second and larger ceremony may occur months or even years after the death, depending on how much time the family needs to amass its resources to cover the expenses of the ritual. If the deceased was of high status, the second ritual may last more than seven days, draw thousands of guests, and entail the slaughter of dozens of water buffalo and pigs, buffalo fights, kick fights, chanting, and dancing.

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