Toraja at a glance
 

The Toraja is an ethnic group indigenous to a mountainous region of South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Their population is approximately 650,000, of which 450,000 still live in the regency of Tana Toraja ("Land of Toraja"). Most of the population is Christian, and others are Muslim or have local animist beliefs known as aluk ("the way"). The Indonesian government has recognized this animist belief as Aluk To Dolo ("Way of the Ancestors").

The word toraja comes from the Bugis language's to riaja, meaning "people of the uplands". The Dutch colonial government named the people Toraja in 1909. Torajans are renowned for their elaborate funeral rites, burial sites carved into rocky cliffs, massive peaked-roof traditional houses known as tongkonan, and colorful wood carvings. Toraja funeral rites are important social events, usually attended by hundreds of people and lasting for several days.

Before the 20th century, Torajans lived in autonomous villages, where they practised animism and were relatively untouched by the outside world. In the early 1900s, Dutch missionaries first worked to convert Torajan highlanders to Christianity. 

Tana Toraja, or Toraja Highland, is unquestionably one of the most beautiful regions of Indonesia. In the distance, a jagged ridge or mountains stretches north to distant, isolated valleys. Piercing the tickets of bamboo and coconuts palm, on hillocks in the middle of rice paddies, the curved roof of Torajan finely carved houses stand demonstrating the admirable skills of the Torajans in carving and natural color painting. The Torajan houses are made high in order to protect the people from wild and dangerous animals, such as snakes.

The long drive from the lowlands to the mountain stronghold of Tana Toraja opens up a breath-taking new world. The rugged mountains and verdant valleys are home to a people whose love of religious spectacle is equaled only by their hospitality. With majestic panoramas, captivating villages and dramatic ceremonies, Tana Toraja is the undisputed highlight of any journey to Sulawesi.

Hidden away in verdant mountains is the fabled Tana Toraja, or Torajaland, where phenomenal funeral ceremonies draw visitors from around the world. 

Upgraded roads, an airport and several star-rated hotels have opened the Toraja highlands to visitors of all interests, budgets and schedules. The essence of the Toraja beliefs and way of life can be experienced without undue effort, as many interesting sites are clustered around the town of Rantepao, easily accessible by road.

Few minutes from Rantepao, artisans at Kete Kesu, a model Toraja settlement, produce bamboo carvings and other traditional handicrafts. The village itself has several well-maintained Tongkonan houses and rice barns.

If the Toraja way of life is interesting, the way of death is a fascinating mix of ritual custom and spectacle. For the Toraja, the dead are as much a part of society as the living. At Lemo, cliffs rise precipitously from the rice fields like stonework condominiums. Crypts carved with prodigious manual labor high into the solid rock house the mortal remains of Toraja nobility. Set amongst the crypts, the striking tau-tau, wooden effigies representing the deceased, look impassively on the world below.

In this cool mountain air, particular landscape, man's craftsmanship harmonizes with tranquil natural beauty. Although over half the area is now Christian, the people are proud of their heritage and welcome visitors to their ritual.

At Londa, a network of coffin-filled caves reaches deep into the limestone hills. Visitors expecting a solemn, well-kept grotto are often shocked and disturbed by skeletons tumbling out of rotten coffins, skulls and bones arranged, to Western eyes, according to some gruesome aesthetic. But the Toraja feel that since their ancestor's souls are residing in heaven, ensuring continued fertility in farm and field, it is appropriate that their earthly remains be on display for the pleasure of honored foreign guests. While the valley between Rantepao and Makale provides a glimpse of Toraja life, the real Toraja lies in the surrounding mountains, accessible only on foot.

In treks ranging from an easy day to a strenuous week, those with a moderate capacity for adventure can experience authentic Toraja village life in charming mountain hamlets. Even in the most remote mountain villages, visitors are welcomed openly. Long accustomed to foreigners stumbling unannounced into their settlements, village leaders will generally arrange overnight accommodation with a local family for a modest contribution.

Tana Toraja is located �310 km from Makassar / Ujung Pandang. To reach Tana Toraja, visitors can use mini-bus or public bus.  The road to Tana Toraja is narrow, curving, with ups and downs. After some 130 km of hugging the coastline of South Sulawesi, the long highway heading north from Ujung Pandang begins its winding ascent to the mountains. Out of Pare-pare, the road to Rantepao turns inland and begins to wind steeply upwards into the rolling hills. Past the ?gateway? arch of Tana Toraja, the road opens on to a hilly plateau, then begins its gradual 200 meter descent into the Makale and Rantepao valleys and a majestic landscape of rugged grey granite outcrops and distant blue mountains.