Posted by: Johan Normark | March 29, 2009

Tongkonan

The most famous architectural feature of the Toraja is called tongkonan , characterized by its greatly upswept saddleback that is shaped like a boat standing on piles. There is not much space inside the building and hence people live most of the day outside the building or in other buildings.

Unusual form of tongkonan

Unusual form of tongkonan

A tongkonan is the navel in the Toraja universe and therefore it is horizontally and vertically divided. Regalia is kept in the attic, below this is the living area and under the floor is where animals are kept. The building usually faces north and south. In larger villages the tongkonans stand in a northern row with each family’s rice barn (alang) facing the tongkonan and hence create a southern row.

Houses (left) and rice barns (right)

Houses (left) and rice barns (right)

The gables and outside walls are often decorated by red, black, and yellow colored wood with carved patterns. Carvings reflect social status and are argued to represent prosperity and fertility. Roosters represent the way of the ancestors (aluk to dolo).

Decoration of a house

Decorating a house

Tongkonans are “houses of origin” and crucial nodes in the kinship network since people trace their family ties through these ancestral buildings. The names of human individuals may disappear but the names of their houses are remembered. Families meet to discuss marriage, inheritance and other important matters in the tonkonans (the Toraja word tongkon means to sit). Since the Toraja trace their origin bilaterally (both male and female lines) each individual belongs to several houses but they may not live in them. One’s membership in a house is only activated on important occasions. Toraja men move to their wife’s home. If the couple divorce the woman keeps the house but the man may dismantle and move the rice barn. The tongkonan is never removed since its east side usually contains several buried placentae.

Buffalo horns

Buffalo horns

Buffalo horns are placed vertically on the front gable as an index of the prestige and wealth of the household. These are the remains from earlier funerals where buffalos were slaughtered.

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