Sulawesi Toraja: Impressive customs & strict traditions

Settlement with church in the Toraja Highlands, Sulawesi

Tana Toraja, the land of the Toraja, is home to more than a quarter of a million people. This indigenous people, who are known for their extraordinary funeral rituals, live in the central highlands in the left ‘arm’ of the island of Sulawesi. While the majority of the Toraja have converted to Christianity over time, their customs are still strongly influenced by their earlier spiritual and religious ideas, which are particularly expressed in their belief in the power of the ancestors and in rituals to venerate the dead which offer a very unique cultural experience to visitors.

In addition to their unusual customs, the Toraja also stand out from other ethnic groups through the architecture of their settlements. The architectural style of their houses is unmistakable, richly decorated with ornaments and buffalo horn, and crowned with striking roof constructions. The Toraja houses are typically built entirely of wood and without any nails. Consisting of several layers of bamboo, the imposing roofs sweep upwards at both ends to resemble boats in shape, making them a distinctive landmark of the region and its people.

Experience the mysterious culture of the Toraja people with our tours!

Attractions in Sulawesi’s Toraja Highlands

The realm of the Toraja: Not only an impressive mountain landscape

Toraja Highlands

Approaching from the south on the main route from Makassar, not only an imposing gate marks the entrance to the realm of the Toraja, but also an impressive mountain landscape with high limestone cliffs surrounding the high plateau which is the home of the Toraja people.

Picturesque Toraja villages framed by mountain panoramas and rice fields

Charming panoramas and picturesque villages

Nestling in a charming landscape of mountains and rice terraces, are picturesque villages waiting to be explored, with wonderful panoramic views from the roads which connect them.

Countless ancient traditions live on in today's Toraja culture of the locals

The Toraja and their traditions

Despite Christian missionary work, the Toraja have managed to preserve their religious and social traditions for centuries, so that to this day there are differences in language, social structures, religion and agricultural practices between the individual areas within the region.

Traditional Toraja villages: House facades richly decorated with ornaments and buffalo horn

Traditional Toraja houses

In a traditional village, the characteristic roof shapes are not the only special feature. The number of buffalo horns attached to the front support beams of a house reflects the wealth and social status of the owner. This also applies to richly decorated walls with carved ornaments in the typical Toraja colors: black, white, red and yellow.

Toraja village life: Tranquil, with a strong sense of community and mutual obligations.

The village life of the Toraja

Life in a Toraja village appears very tranquil, but first impressions do not paint the full picture. The village community is typically made up of members of an extended family, each with their own duties and obligations. In particular, the pressures on individuals to make financial contributions for rituals and offerings can shake the harmony of village life.

Waiting for the funeral: Until then, the deceased are considered by the Toraja to be sick or asleep

Local Belief

In the Torajas’ belief, life on earth is only a transition – the afterlife is of greater importance. When a family member dies, it is believed that only the soul leaves the body, but remains in the immediate vicinity until the funeral. During this time, the deceased family member is considered ‘sick’ or ‘sleeping’, remaining in the family house, often for many years.

Toraja funeral ceremonies are very elaborate and involve many rituals

Toraja funeral ceremonies

A funeral ceremony consists of numerous rituals and can therefore span several days in the presence of hundreds of guests. As part of the ceremony, the ornate coffin with the deceased is placed on an elaborate raised platform, specially built for the occasion.

Toraja rock tombs: Still hewn by hand; the best places are those with a view

Rock Tombs: The final resting place

Only after the funeral ceremony is over, the sleeping or sick person is considered deceased and the coffin is buried, typically in a high-lying, hand-carved rock tomb.

Toraja ancestor cult: Each wooden figure represents the soul of a deceased person

The Toraja anchestor worship

According to the Torajas’ belief, objects of life on earth can be taken into the afterlife. In the past, the dead were often given very precious things to take with them to the grave. At the grave site, the deceased is represented by a displayed wooden figure, a so-called Tau-Tau, which is believed to house the soul.

Toraja culture is full of rituals; water buffaloes play a central role in this

Rituals: Central elements in the Toraja culture

Water buffalos play a central role in the Toraja culture because they are considered to be a status symbol and are part of many rituals. The higher the status of a person, the more buffalos need to be sacrificed at a funeral ceremony, which makes such an event extremely expensive.

Tours to Sulawesi Toraja

Events Sulawesi Toraja

Journey to Sulawesi Toraja

Singapur – Makassar (Sulawesi) –> SilkAir 3 hrs.

Jakarta (Java) – Makassar (Sulawesi) –> Garuda, LionAir, Sriwijaya, Batik, Citilink 2¼ hrs.

Indonesia’s region East of Wallace on the map

East of Wallace