Toraja - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Toraja society is hierarchically organized on the basis of age, descent, wealth, and occupation. In traditional times there were three basic ranks: the aristocracy ( puang, to parengnge' ), commoners ( to makaka, to buda ), and serfs/slaves ( kaunan ). Women were prohibited from marrying down, and the eating utensils of slaves were considered polluting and were carefully segregated from those of the nobility. Today slavery is illegal and the topic of rank is particularly sensitive. Wealth is much respected in Tana Toraja, particularly as it allows one greater visibility in ritual contexts. Tongkonan leaders also have a great deal of prestige and are chosen on the basis of their intelligence, charisma, bravery, descent, and wealth. Government officials and the clergy are also afforded high status.

Political Organization. The head of Tana Toraja Regency is called a bupati and is appointed by the Indonesian government. A council of local representatives (DPRD) assists the bupati in decision making. The regency is divided into nine smaller administrative districts called kecamatan, each overseen by a camat. Each kecamatan consists of several villages ( desa ), each with a village head ( lurah ). The Indonesian government provides the basic range of services including schools, police, health posts, tax collection, and road maintenance.

Social Control. Gossip and shaming are important means of social control. Personal disputes are often mediated by tongkonan leaders. When traditional leaders are unable to resolve such disputes, the state apparatus (police, military, etc.) is called upon.

Conflict. Prior to the twentieth century lowland Buginese periodically raided the Toraja highlands for coffee and slaves. Relations between Toraja settlements were often tense as well. Headhunting raids to avenge the death of a kinsman were common until the beginning of this century.

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