Toraja Culture and Ancient Tradition
 
Culture and Ancient tradition
Toraja's indigenous belief system is polytheistic animism, called Aluk, or "the way" (sometimes translated as "the law"). In the Toraja myth, the ancestors of Torajan people came down from heaven using stairs, which were then used by the Torajans as a communication medium with Puang Matua, the Creator. The cosmos, according to Aluk, is divided into the upper world (heaven), the world of man (earth), and the underworld. At first, heaven and earth were married, then there was a darkness, a separation, and finally the light. Animals live in the underworld, which is represented by rectangular space enclosed by pillars, the earth is for mankind, and the heaven world is located above, covered with a saddle-shaped roof. Other Toraja Gods include Pong Banggai di Rante (god of Earth), Indo' Ongon-Ongon (a goddess who can cause earthquakes), Pong Lalondong (god of death), and Indo' Belo Tumbang (goddess of medicine); there are many more.

The earthly authority, whose words and actions should be cleaved to both in life (agriculture) and death (funerals), is called To Minaa (an aluk priest). Aluk is not just a belief system; it is a combination of law, religion, and habit. Aluk governs social life, agricultural practices, and ancestral rituals. The details of aluk may vary from one village to another. One common law is the requirement that death and life rituals be separated. Torajans believe that performing death rituals might ruin their corpses if combined with life rituals. The two rituals are equally important. During the time of the Dutch missionaries, Christian Torajans were prohibited from attending or performing life rituals, but were allowed to perform death rituals. Consequently, Toraja's death rituals are still practiced today, while life rituals have diminished.

Toraja people enjoy great longevity-surely something to do with the cool climate and active lifestyle from infancy to old age. They spend their lives growing excellent fragrant rice, raising magnificent buffalo, especially the highly valued pink albino strains. Their work is interspersed with dramatic ceremonies. Harvest festivals and house warming festivals, are times for feasting and a gathering of the clan, times to wear their best costumes and jewellery, bring out the tuak (a local brew) and party for days on end, times for singing and dancing and, of course, eating. These are also times for neighbours and clan members to pay their respects and to pay back obligations that may date back generations.

Family affiliation
Family is the primary social and political grouping in Torajan society. Each village is one extended family, the seat of which is the Tongkonan, a traditional Torajan house. Each Tongkonan has a name, which becomes the name of the village. The familial dons maintain village unity. Marriage between distant cousins (fourth cousins and beyond) is a common practice that strengthens kinship. Toraja society prohibits marriage between close cousins (up to and including the third cousin)-except for nobles, to prevent the dispersal of property. Kinship is actively reciprocal, meaning that the extended family helps each other farm, share buffalo rituals, and pay off debts.

Each person belongs to both the mother's and the father's families, the only bilateral family line in Indonesia. Children, therefore, inherit household affiliation from both mother and father, including land and even family debts. Children's names are given on the basis of kinship, and are usually chosen after dead relatives. Names of aunts, uncles and cousins are commonly referred to in the names of mothers, fathers and siblings.

Before the start of the formal administration of Toraja villages by the Tana Toraja Regency, each Toraja village was autonomous. In a more complex situation, in which one Toraja family could not handle their problems alone, several villages formed a group; sometimes, villages would unite against other villages. Relationship between families was expressed through blood, marriage, and shared ancestral houses (Tongkonan), practically signed by the exchange of buffalo and pigs on ritual occasions. Such exchanges not only built political and cultural ties between families but defined each person's place in a social hierarchy: who poured palm wine, who wrapped a corpse and prepared offerings, where each person could or could not sit, what dishes should be used or avoided, and even what piece of meat constituted one's share.

Class affiliation
In early Toraja society, family relationships were tied closely to social class. The structure of the caste of Torajan people according to Aluk are:

  1. Tana Bulaan (Tana = caste, Bulaan = gold) Nobles never marry lower class people. Moreover, if someone divorces his/her spouse, then he/she has to pay 24 buffaloes to the divorced his/her spouse.
  2.  Tana Bassi(Tana = caste, Bassi = iron) Lower than Tana Bulaan. A person has to pay 10 buffaloes to his/her divorced spouse.
  3. Tana Karurung (common people) a person has to pay 2 buffaloes to his/her divorced spouse.
  4. Tana Kuakua (slaves) there are still some people in certain areas having slaves to take care of their rice farm. The slaves are paid and given adequate food. In the past, slaves were not paid.
In general there were three strata: nobles, commoners, and slaves (slavery was abolished in 1909 by the Dutch East Indies government). Class was inherited through the mother. It was taboo, therefore, to marry "down" with a woman of lower class. On the other hand, marrying a woman of higher class could improve the status of the next generation. The nobility's condescending attitude toward the commoners is still maintained today for reasons of family prestige.

Nobles, who were believed to be direct descendants of the descended person from heaven, lived in Tongkonans, while commoners lived in less lavish houses (bamboo shacks called Banua). Slaves lived in small huts, which had to be built around their owner's Tongkonan. Commoners might marry anyone, but nobles preferred to marry in-family to maintain their status. Sometimes nobles married Bugis or Makassarese nobles. Commoners and slaves were prohibited from having death feasts. Despite close kinship and status inheritance, there was some social mobility, as marriage or change in wealth could affect an individuals status. Wealth was counted by the ownership of water buffaloes.

Slaves in Toraja society were family property. Sometimes Torajans decided to become slaves when they incurred a debt, pledging to work as payment. Slaves could be taken during wars, and slave trading was common. Slaves could buy their freedom, but their children still inherited slave status. Slaves were prohibited from wearing bronze or gold, carving their houses, eating from the same dishes as their owners, or having sex with free women-a crime punishable by death.

Dance and music
Torajans perform dances on several occasions, most often during their elaborate funeral ceremonies. They dance to express their grief, and to honor and even cheer the deceased person because he is going to have a long journey in the afterlife. First, a group of men form a circle and sing a monotonous chant throughout the night to honor the deceased (a ritual called Ma'badong). This is considered by many Torajans to be the most important component of the funeral ceremony. On the second funeral day, the Ma'randing warrior dance is performed to praise the courage of the deceased during life. Several men perform the dance with a sword, a large shield made from buffalo skin, a helmet with a buffalo horn, and other ornamentation. The Ma'randing dance precedes a procession in which the deceased is carried from a rice barn to the Rante, the site of the funeral ceremony. During the funeral, elder women perform the Ma'katia dance while singing a poetic song and wearing a long feathered costume. The Ma'akatia dance is performed to remind the audience of the generosity and loyalty of the deceased person. After the bloody ceremony of buffalo and pig slaughter, a group of boys and girls clap their hands while performing a cheerful dance called Ma'dondan.
As in other agricultural societies, Torajans dance and sing during harvest time. The Ma'bugi dance celebrates the thanksgiving event, and the Ma'gandangi dance is performed while Torajans are pounding rice. There are several war dances, such as the Manimbong dance performed by men, followed by the Ma'dandan dance performed by women. The Aluk religion governs when and how Torajans dance. A dance called Ma'bua can be performed only once every 12 years. Ma'bua is a major Toraja ceremony in which priests wear a buffalo head and dance around a sacred tree.

A traditional musical instrument of the Toraja is a bamboo flute called a Pa'suling (suling is an Indonesian word for flute). This six-holed flute (not unique to the Toraja) is played at many dances, such as the thanksgiving dance Ma'bondensan, where the flute accompanies a group of shirtless, dancing men with long fingernails. The Toraja have indigenous musical instruments, such as the Pa'pelle (made from palm leaves) and the Pa'karombi (the Torajan version of a Jew's harp). The Pa'pelle is played during harvest time and at house inauguration ceremonies.

Language
The ethnic Toraja language is dominant in Tana Toraja with the main language is the Sa'dan Toraja. Although the national Indonesian language is the official language and is spoken in the community, all elementary schools in Tana Toraja teach Toraja language.

Language varieties of Toraja, including Kalumpang, Mamasa, Tae' , Talondo' , Toala' , and Toraja-Sa'dan, belong to the Malayo-Polynesian language from the Austronesian family. At the outset, the isolated geographical nature of Tana Toraja formed many dialects between the Toraja languages themselves. After the formal administration of Tana Toraja, some Toraja dialects have been influenced by other languages through the transmigration program, introduced since the colonialism period, and it has been a major factor in the linguistic variety of Toraja languages.

A prominent attribute of Toraja language is the notion of grief. The importance of death ceremony in Toraja culture has characterized their languages to express intricate degrees of grief and mourning. The Toraja language contains many terms referring sadness, longing, depression, and mental pain. It is a catharsis to give a clear notion about psychological and physical effect of loss, and sometimes to lessen the pain of grief itself.