TANA TORAJA : Sacred, Indigenous and Mesmerizing space

It took quite a long journey, the bus ride along the edge of South Sulawesi to reach the upland of Tana Toraja. It was raining hard, dark but the cool air is a relief from the usual heat. I look outside the window and there’re so many huge traditional houses which I have never seen before in a real life. The shape looks like a distinguished boat-shaped and built on piles. Oh, it’s Tongkonan house, the ancestral house which I’ve ever learnt before in my previous vernacular architecture class. Yes, here I am, I came to Tana Toraja to see the masterpiece from Tana Toraja.

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I am saying that there are three words which best described for Tana Toraja : sacred, indigenous and mesmerizing space.

When you were in Tana Toraja, you would see enchanting images of a verdant land, terrace in rice paddies and sprinkled with quaint thatched homes. I do agree with the declare of Lonely Planet : Indonesia that “A trip to Tana Toraja is like a National Geographic documentary brought to life”

At that time I only manage to visit Ke’te’ Kesu’. It is said that this place has the most complete settlement. The site consists of a compound of houses and granaries, burial place, ceremonial ground, ricefields and water-buffalo pasture. Ketekesu compound comprises 6 tongkonan houses, 12 granaries, and surrounded by beautiful rice field landscape. The houses and granaries are laid out in the traditional arrangement and one of the house serves as museum. To the north lies ceremonial ground, displaying more than 20 menhirs.

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Talking about genius loci/ spirit of place in Ketekesu. I might say that there’s something missing there. The missing one might be the human activities in Ketekesu. It is said that the government ask people not to live in tongkonan house in ketekesu because now it becomes tourism spot and also because of the modern life. People tend to leave their old tradition and choose to live in a new building. But somehow, I do agree if people still live in the tongkonan house and do normal activities so that there’s still life in Ketekesu Tongkonan area and people can still feel the spirit of place. When there’re human being living there and doing normal activities, ketekesu will be the great living monument. Right now I might say that this area is only a monument since no human activities inside the tongkonan. For me, people can still use their old house and modify the interior. In this way of life, they can still take care of their precious old house and also live in modern way by modifying the interior. But if their old house is totally damage, I wish that young people understand how to built the tongkonan house so that they will built new building which has the same character as the old one. Last time I came there, I could see there’re many modern buildings which use concrete as building material and copy the European style. I hope people still love the tongkonan and won’t leave the strong character of it.

Beside the traditional house, there’s one thing which impressed me. The funeral system was also surprised me.


The local people said that most Torajans spend their whole lives working and planning for their deaths. Funeral ceremonies are huge, planned, saved for, and scheduled like a wedding. They don’t burry the death body but put the death body inside the tongkonan because they do believe that their spirits are still hanging around until a funeral ceremony can be performed for them. Also they have huge celebration about funeral because they believe about afterlife.

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Well, it’s my short story about Tana Toraja. Have you ever been there and how do you feel when you are in Tana Toraja? One picture of me standing in front of Tongkonan house in Ketekesu.


Last, I often asked by friends or people around me why I do like to write the stories of my travel and what the purpose for my life. Well, it’s because these thing drives me to have more spirit in my life. Like what Rick Bass said in “ Why I came West” :

There are three spirits that drive us : The spirit within us , the spirit of a place, and then the third things, that story like thing-the ignition or spark, that occurs between us and it.

-Rick Bass, Why I came West, 2008-

After this article, I will post another essay about architecture and indigenous life in Nias Island especially Bawomataluo village. But I need time to write the story and select the photographs. Ok then, see you in near future.

credit : Fani Atmanti

4 thoughts on “TANA TORAJA : Sacred, Indigenous and Mesmerizing space

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