January 6, 2013

0449 INDONESIA (Sulawesi) - Tana Toraja Traditional Settlement (UNESCO WHS - Tentative List)

As the name implies, Tana Toraja Regency (Land of the Toraja) is a regency (kabupaten) of South Sulawesi in which live the Toraja ethnic group people (people of the uplands), renowned for their elaborate funeral rites, burial sites carved into rocky cliffs, massive peaked-roof traditional houses known as tongkonan, and colorful wood carvings. According to the Torajan myth, the first tongkonan house was built in heaven by Puang Matua, the Creator. When the first Torajan ancestor descended to earth, he imitated the heavenly house and held a big ceremony. An alternative legend, describes the Toraja arriving from the north by boats, but caught in a fierce storm, their boats were so badly damaged that they used them as roofs for their new houses.

At Toraja, the homes are the focus of family identity and tradition, representing the descendants of a founding ancestor. Torajans belong to more than one house as they trace descent bilaterally. Upon marriage, men live in their wive's home, and if they divorced, possession of the house is granted to the wife. The tongkonan is traditionally seen also as the navel of the universe. It faces north, to the "head of the sky" where Puang Matua resides. The alang, or rice granaries, face south or the posterior, as this is the direction from which trouble and disease exit. On vertically it's divided into three levels: the attic where the regalia and family heirlooms are kept, the living area, and the space under the floor where domesticated animals are kept.

There are three types of tongkonan: tongkonan layuk (the house of the highest authority, used as the center of government), tongkonan pekamberan (which belongs to the family group members who have some authorities in local traditions, known as adat), and tongkonan batu (which belongs to the ordinary family members). Gables and the outside walls of tongkonan (im kool) are often decorated by red, black, and yellow colored wood, with patterns carved into it. A source of the motifs is thought to be Hindu-Buddhist, but also Christian toraja use the cross as a decorative symbol of their faith. Buffalo horns hung in a vertical array on the front gable are a sign of prestige.

The internal space is small in comparison with the overwhelming saddleback roof structure that covers it. Interiors are cramped and dark with few windows, because most of daily life is lived outside. The construction of tongkonan is laborious work and it's usually built with the help of all family members. A large tongkonan can take a crew of ten about three months to build and another month to carve and paint the outside walls. The distinctive curved roof shape is obtained through a series of vertical hanging spars supporting upwardly angled beams. Bamboo staves bound with rattan are assembled transversely in layers and tied longitudinally to the rafters forming the roof.

About the stamps
The first stamp is part of the second series entitled Traditional Textile of Indonesia, issued on July 6, 2011. As the first one (about which I wrote here), this series contains also eight stamps with the same value (2500 IDR):

09/33 Tenun Aceh, Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam
10/33 Tenun Pandai Sikek, West Sumatera
11/33 Batik Basurek, Bengkulu
12/33 Songket Palembang, South Sumatera
13/33 Batik Madura, East Java
14/33 Tenun Sambas, West Kalimantan - it's on the postcard
15/33 Tenun Bentenan, North Sulawesi
16/33 Batik Masambo, West Nusa Tenggara

The second stamp, depicting Invisible Rail (Habroptila wallacii), is part of the series Indonesia's Threatened Bird Species, about which I wrote here.

This is a post for Sunday Stamps #104, run by Viridian from Viridian’s Postcard Blog. The theme of this week is Something black. Click on the button to visit Viridian’s blog and all the other participants.

Tongkonan - Wikipedia
Traditional Textiles of Indonesia 2011 (#2) - Jefferson Stamps Blog
Indonesia's Threatened Bird Species - Indonesia Stamps
Tongkonan: Torajan Kindred Houses - Welcome to Toraja!
Tana Toraja Traditional Settlement - UNESCO official website

Sender: Afendi Riyanto (direct swap)
Sent from Bekasi (Java / Indonesia), on 08.12.2012


  1. that bird seems to have huge feet!
    how interesting that these people show their wealth through the homes they spend so little time in. I am used to reading about cultures where the clothing or jewellery signifies wealth or status in a tribe.

  2. I imagine that bird is invisible at night.
    Thank you for joining in this week with a very appropriate stamp and an interesting card.

  3. I wonder why they call it "invisible", perhaps because it's so rare. It's very handsome.

  4. Thank you so much for shared postacrd from Indonesia hehehehe and sorry for cancelation :)

  5. Nice :) i planned to go to Tana TORAJA