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The Toraja are an ethnic group indigenous to a mountainous region of South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Their population is approximately 650,000, of which 450,000 still live in the regency of Tana Toraja (“Land of Toraja”).
Tongkonan are the traditional Torajan houses. The word “tongkonan” comes from the Torajan tongkon (“to sit”).
Tongkonan stand high on wooden piles, topped with a layered split-bamboo roof shaped in a sweeping curved arc, and they are incised with red, black, and yellow detailed wood carvings on the exterior walls.
In Toraja society, the funeral ritual is the most elaborate and expensive event. The richer and more powerful the individual, the more expensive is the funeral. In the aluk religion, only nobles have the right to have an extensive death feast.
The wealthy are often buried in a stone grave carved out of a rocky cliff. The grave is usually expensive and takes a few months to complete.
A wood-carved effigy, called Tau tau, is usually placed in the cave looking out over the land.
There are three methods of burial: the coffin may be laid in a cave or in a carved stone grave, or hung on cliff. It contains any possessions that the deceased will need in the afterlife.
In some areas, a stone cave may be found that is large enough to accommodate a whole family.
The coffin of a baby or child may be hung from ropes on a cliff face or from a tree. This hanging grave usually lasts for years, until the ropes rot and the coffin falls to the ground.