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Tau-tau statues
Excavated balconies for the spirits

The death of a royal aluk is the start of the creation of a statue or tau-tau ('little human' or 'humanoid'). There are two kinds of such statues: tau-tau nangka, made from the durable, gold-colored wood of the breadtree (nangka), and tau-tau lampa, made from bamboo and cloth. The tau-tau are ought to be meeting places for spirit (bombo) of the deceased. A man is dressed in nice batik sarung with a blouse in European style and a too large jacket. His neck is decorated with chutes of encrypted gold and amulettes of pig tooth. The hat is made from old silver coins, buffalo horns and some brightly colored feathers.
Women are dressed more modest with a blouse or kebaya, a bag of sirih, a wide waist-band of silver coins, gold, beads and bracelets and a black cloth that is wrapped around the back of the head. On her head, a porcelain plate is the relation to the kitchen. The face of each statue is wraped in brightly red fabric on top of that white wooden or paper eyes.
When the statue is ready, the mebalun kneels in front of it and turns it around to wake it up. Then he offers some pig meat and rice and a chute of ricewine. The family members give some sirih and tobacco and ask for it's blessing and a high age. Later the women hug the tau-tau, press their face against the red face and express long complaints. After that the statue is brought to the ritual field together with the body. After the funeral, the tau-tau is undressed. All that is left on the field is the green bamboo: the body has left to it's 'house without smoke', the spirit has left for the south, to Puya and the relatives have gone home.
In richer areas, where the social stratification is stronger, a permanent wooden statue is carved besides the tau-tau lampa. This are the statues which can be found in the rock formations, which are to be found everywhere. They are also seen as meeting places for the spirit; their role is to guard the excavated grave tombs and to bless their descendants.


Making of these statues is expensive and takes a long time; cutting is restricted with many taboos. However they nowadays are hardly made because of the lowered interest in the aluk, these statues are still respected by the Toraja. Only those who uphold a aluk is allowed to participate in a ceremony which is held every second year to honour the ancestors. In this ceremony the graves of the ancestors are opened; the tau-tau are redressed and recovered. Sacrifices of sirih, rice, tobacco, cigarettes, pig meat and wine are made in trade for blessings for the living.
The woodcarved wooden statues were almost imaginary to the first Europeans which visited Tana Toraja in the early 20th century. Nowadays they are just as fascinating. They big, staring eyes in geometrical, still real faces watch over the wealthy landscapes. Collections of tau-tau are found in the open air, near rock formations, not in museums. They are the meeting point of death, art and ritual.
Dutch missionaries disallowed the creation of these statues, and some preachers of the Torajan church even now don't want to hold a service when tau-tau are there as well. Recently some tau-tau are made for Christians. Some Christians plea for the fact that the Torajan culture should be protected against every price and should even be restarted again. The statues are just representations - nothing more. They should have as much power as pictures, none.
In the 1980's, hundreds of stolen tau-tau were offered at international art markets and found their way to museums and rooms in Jakarta, Europe and America. The Toraja were shocked, angry, bitter and desparate. Many families have hidden their statues in undisclosed locations in caves and other places. Some villagers installed a metal fence in front of their balconies. In 1989 the government asked artists to make replicas. The roughtly carved statues in the rock formations of Lemo are substitutes. Some of the original tau-tau puppets even were on display in the Smithsonian Institute back in 1991. It is sad that the puppets that ought to protect the living, now have to be protected against them.


    
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