The Toraja people who live in valleys that are lush with green rice terraces and fertile coffee plantations. The Toraja today still adhere to their age-old beliefs, rituals and traditions, although many of her people are modernized or have embraced Christianity. Here, the nobility of Toraja are believed to be descendents of heavenly beings who came down by a heavenly stairway to live here on earth in this beautiful landscape. And to keep up the energy of the land and its people, the Toraja people believe that these must be sustained through rituals that celebrate both life and death, which are attached to the agricultural seasons. Here rituals in connection with life are strictly separated from death rites.
The name Toraja was first given by the Bugis Sidenreng tribe who called them the“Riaja” ("The people inhabiting the upper part of the mountains").While the people of Luwu called them,“Riajang” (or "people inhabiting the west"). Another version says that ‘Toraya’ is coined from the word To (Tau= meaning people), and Raya (comes from the word Maraya = great). The two words together mean “great people”, or the nobility. Eventually, the term morphed into Toraja. The word “Tana” means land. Therefore Tana Toraja means the Land of the Nobility.
Toraja is most well known for its elaborate funeral ceremonies that can take days and involve entire villages. These are not only moments for mourning but are moreover events to renew family ties and to ensure continued unity among villages and communities.
Death ceremonies, however, are held only after the last rice harvest is in and cleared, which is normally between July to September, while ceremonies celebrating life are held in conjunction with the planting season which starts in October. These timings are possible since the dead are not buried immediately but are kept for months, sometimes for years, in the ancestral house until time and funds allow for a proper funeral.
The Toraja live in small communities where married children leave the parental home and start a new community elsewhere. Children belong to both the mother’s and father’s lines. Nonetheless they all ascribe to one ancestral home, which is known as the “Tongkonan” from both father and mother’s line. The Tongkonan is the home of the don or patriarch of aristocratic families. As Don or patriarch his main duty it is to maintain unity among families, villages and communities, and ensure that ancestral beliefs and traditions are adhered to.