Posted by: iqbibal | November 4, 2009



Tongkonan is the traditional ancestral house, or rumah adat of the Torajan people, in Sulawesi, Indonesia. Tongkonan have a distinguishing boat-shaped and oversized saddle back roof. Like most of Indonesia’s Austronesian-based traditional architecture tongkonan are built on piles. The construction of tongkonan is laborious work and it is usually built with the help of all family members. In the original Toraja society, only nobles had the right to build tongkonan. Commoners live in smaller and less decorated homes called banua.

Sulawesi (formerly known as The Celebes) is a large island, extraordinarily contorted in shape, lying between Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) and the Maluku Island group (also known as The Molluccas). It is an island abundant in natural resources with a rich and varied array of cultures including some of the most distinctive and anthropologically significant in Indonesia. The dominant groups of the island are the sea-faring and once piratical Muslim Bugis and Makassarese in the island’s south-west, and the strongly Christian Minahasa of the northern peninsula. The Toraja, of South Sulawesi are, however, arguably one of the most distinctive of ethnic groups in all Indonesia.

The name Toraja is of Bugis origin and is given to the people of rugged northern part of the south peninsula. The Toraja are a proto-Malay people whose origins lie in mainland South East Asia, possibly Cambodia. Like many Indonesian ethnic groups, the Toraja were head-hunters and participants in inter-village raids; villages were thus located strategically on hill tops and were heavily fortified. The Dutch colonialists pacified the Toraja and led them to build their villages in valleys and changed their agriculture from a slash and burn variety to wet-rice cultivation, and pig and buffalo raising.

The native religion is megalithic and animist. Many of these native practises remain including animal sacrifices, ostentatious funeral rites and huge communal feasts. Their native faith only began to change when Protestant missionaries first arrived in 1909 with Dutch colonists. Today, the Toraja are 60 per cent Protestant Christians and 10 per cent Muslim. The beliefs of the rest are centered on the native religions. The Toraja’s are largely Christian and animist.

Toraja divided into different geographic groups, the most important being Mamasa, centred around the isolated Kalumpang valley and the Sa’dan of the southern Toraja lands. Known as ‘Tana Toraja’, Sa’dan has the market towns of Makale and Rantepao. There have never been any strong lasting political grouping within the Toraja. Good roads now reach Tana Toraja from Makassar, the largest city in Sulawesi. This brings in a seasonal influx of foreign tourists who whilst injecting their money into the local economy have not yet had much lasting impact on local people’s lives.

The word ‘Tongkonan’ is derived from the Toraja word tongkon (‘to sit’) and literally means the place where family members meet.

According to the Torajan myth, the first tongkonan house was built in heaven by Puang Matua, the Creator. It was built on four poles and the roof was made of Indian cloth. When the first Torajan ancestor descended to earth, he imitated the heavenly house and held a big ceremony. An alternative legend, describes the Toraja arriving from the north by boats, but caught in a fierce storm, their boats were so badly damaged that they used them as roofs for their new houses.

There are three types of tongkonan. Tongkonan layuk is the house of the highest authority and it is used as the center of government. The second type is tongkonan pekamberan, which belongs to the family group members, who have some authorities in local traditions (known as adat). The last one is tongkonan batu, which belongs to the ordinary family members.

Gables and the outside walls of tongkonan (im kool) are often decorated by red, black, and yellow colored wood, with patterns carved into it. Toraja society, however, is highly hierarchical and traditionally villagers have traditionally only been able to decorate their houses in a manner to their social status. Most carvings on tongkonan represent prosperity and fertility with the individual designs represent what is important to the particular family. Other houses have no carvings or painting; their surfaces are simply bare weather-worn timbers.

Circular motifs represent the sun, the symbol of power. Golden kris (‘daggers’) motifs symbolise wealth. Geometric spiralling designs and motifs are used that include buffalo heads – representing a prosperity and ritual sacrifice. Cockerels are represented in the colours of red, white, yellow and black; colors which represent the indigenous Toraja religion the Aluk To Dolo (the Way of the Ancestors). Black symbolises death and darkness; yellow, God’s blessing and power; white, the colour of flesh and bone symbolising purity; and red, the colour of blood symbolising human life. The pigments are sourced from common materials; black from soot; white from lime; red and yellow from colored earth; and tuak (palm wine) is used to strengthen the colors.

Many of the motifs are identical to those on Dong Son kettle drums whereas other motifs. Another source of the motifs is thought to be Hindu-Buddhist, particularly the square cross motifs that may have alternatively been copied from Indian trade cloths. Christian toraja use the cross as a decorative symbol of their faith. Payment for the decorating artists has traditionally been in the form of buffalo. Water is also a common theme in designs and represents life, fertility and prolific rice fields.

Buffalo horns hung in a vertical array on the front gable are a sign of prestige and are customarily used to signify the wealth of the household. Furthermore, a buffalo head made from painted wood and buffalo-dung, but crowned with real horns, is mounted on the façades.



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