Toraja, group of peoples of South Celebes (Sulawesi), Indonesia. At the turn of the 21st century, they numbered roughly 750,000. Their language, with many dialects, belongs to the Austronesian language family.
Toraja ancestor effigy Archaic Toraja tau-tau (visible soul of the ancestor), wood and shell sculpture from Marante, Tondon, Sulawesi, 19th century; in the Honolulu Academy of Arts.Photograph by L. Mandle. Honolulu Academy of Arts, gift of The Christensen Fund, 2001 (10177.1a-k)
The Toraja are believed to be descendants of speakers of Austronesian languages who overran Celebes long ago and absorbed or exterminated the aboriginal population. Muslim Indonesians—most notably, the Buginese—later drove the Toraja into the interior of the island. There the Toraja built their villages on easily defended hilltops for better security during warfare.
TorajaTemporary housing in a Toraja village, constructed for guests and relatives attending a funeral, on the island of Celebes (Sulawesi), Indonesia.© George Holton/Photo Researchers
Most present-day Toraja are Christian or Muslim and live in reasonably accessible villages. They are predominantly farmers with a few industries such as weaving, pottery, wood carving, and ironworking. Traditional bark clothing may still be worn in ritual circumstances; otherwise it has been replaced with Malayan-style cotton attire or shirts, pants, and other garments based on Western models. Historically, the Toraja filed their teeth and adorned themselves with many ornaments.