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Introduction to Tana Toraja
Introduction to Tana Toraja

The road from Makassar to Toraja runs along the coast for about 130 km's and then hits the mountains. After the entrance to Tana Toraja you enter a majestic landscape with giant gray, granites and stones and blue mountains at a distance after passing the market village of Mebali. They form a sharp contrast with the lively green of the fertile, rain-fed terraces and the rusty read of the tropical laterite soil. This is Tana Toraja, one of the most splendid areas in Indonesia.
The about half a milion residents of kabupaten (district) Tana Toraja, which is also known as 'Torajaland'. Big number of Toraja have been migrated outside the area to find a job. Despite the nice scenery and the mountains covered in ricefields, the area is relatively poor. Some aristocrats posess big portions of land, but most don't posess enough soil to live from rice all year round; they have to fill in their diet with cassave, corn, peanuts and vegetables, grown in little gardens. Rice still is the favorite food in Toraja, and those who can afford rather buy extra rice which they need instead of cassava.
The rice is grown on rain-fed terraces, which often have to be created by hand, because they are too smal for machines. The traditional terraces only give one harvest every year, but in many areas, new and better spiecies of rice are grown in combination with fertilizer, in this way they can sometimes harvest upto five times a year.
Groups of villages with form a ritual community, used to coordinate their work, in which every part of the cycle was celebrated with rituals. Death festivities were delayed until harvest was in, in order not to mix the rituals of the dead with the rituals of life. Nowadays the people are more to follow their own schedule and the ritual aspects are decreasing.
Most Sa'dan and Mamasa Toraja are Christian. The sensus of 1990 tells us that 87 per cent of the population was reported Christian, 9 per cent as muslem. In remote area's people tend to cling to their original religion (which are nowadays named aluk to dolo or 'traditions from the ancestors').
A big part of the population of Tana Toraja follows the life of the past. After a simple breakfast of boiled rice of cassava, the villagers go to their ricefields or vegetable gardens on the slopes. Kids go to the course to get fresh water in bamboo.
In some areas there are no other shops than small sheds along a path, where salt, soap, matches and petroleum for lights. The people have to trade their rice or a pig in order to pay for things they don't produce themselves or to pay for the education of their kids.
At night a number of men gather under the tree where they meet the palmwine seller for a little drink and talk, or they play domino in front of the house in the light of a small lamp. Because there is not always television, the kids take care of their own; most go to bed early. When ritual activities break through the daily routine, people sometimes travel over big distances and eat, drink, dance and talk for entire nights to honour the dead.

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