The faces of the Toraja people, when closely observed, are not much different from the faces of Asians, especially East Asians. Although there is no definitive research on their origins, many believed they hail from the Gulf of Tonkin, situated between northern Vietnam and southern China.
Torajans will also say they are of Chinese descent. The story goes that from 1,500 to 2,500 years AD they arrived on the K-shaped island of Sulawesi by some form of boat.
In the mountains of Sulawesi, they constructed houses resembling boats, the places they resided on the beach from their places of origin and where they originally lived upon their arrival on the island. The shape of the houses remains the same until today, facing to the north in the direction their ancestors came from.
The Torajans made the rational decision to move from the coast to higher ground, living in the Enrekang area near Kandora mountain. The name Toraja was given by the Bugis Sidendereng people and also the Luwu. The name is derived from “To”, meaning people, and “Riaja”, living in a higher land, with the Luwu calling the To Rajang “the people living in the west”.
According to the Culture and Education Ministry, in its book Traditional Ceremonies of Southern Sulawesi [1861-1982], there are various viewpoints on how the name Torajan was derived:
1. The Toraja name is from “To-Riaja”, meaning people [To] and Riaja (northerners). The name refers to the people who live in the south of Torajans, the Bugis.
2. Toraja comes from “To-Rajang”, for the “To” and “Rajang”, or western people. It refers to the Luwu people who place “Tana Toraja” [Toraja Land] in the west.
3. Toraja is also said to be derived from “To-Raya”, or “eastern people”. It originates from the people of Makassar who place Tana Toraja in the east.
4. Toraja is from “To-Raja” — meaning the people of the south; it is said the king of South Sulawesi acknowledged his line of descent from Tondok Lepongan Bulan Tana Matari [Toraja].
The name Toraja was bestowed by the Dutch colonists in 1909. There is not only history, but also the legacy of the Torajans as people who continue to preserve their traditions. In understand culture, we will also better understand the cultures of our own land and gain a greater tolerance between ethnicities and culture to increase our awareness of their preservation.