The Toraja

Toraja warrior with spear and shield, probably 1920's. South Sulawesi, Indonesia

Toraja (Toradja) is a collective designation for multiple groups of villagers who live in the rugged mountains of northern reaches of the south Sulawesi peninsula. Numbering in total about one million, the most well known of these peoples are sometimes called Sa’dan (Sadang) Toraja. Villages were autonomous. Locally, the Toraja people distinguish themselves as Mamasa, Rongkong, Seko, Maki and Mambi and did not share a sense of common identity. In the 18th century, the lowland peoples such as the Muslim Makassarese thought of highlanders as kingdomless headhunters who ate pork and worshipped pagan deities, and that was mostly correct. The name Toraja is relatively recent, first applied by the Dutch colonial government in 1909. The Dutch abolished slavery in the 1920’s and this greatly angered the Toraja who profited greatly from the slave trade. In the 1930’s the name Toraja was embraced by the southern highlanders as they sought to form a cultural identity. Today, most Toraja are Christian but some are Muslim or continue with their ancestral animist beliefs. The Dutch used numerous methods to subdue the Torajan culture but with minimal success. Later, attacks by lowlanders, civil war following Indonesian independence and over 15 years of guerrilla war forcibly led large numbers of Torajans converting to Christianty.