The Toraja are an ethnic group indigenous to a mountainous region of South Sulawesi. Most of the population have local animist beliefs known as Aluk To Dolo (“Way of the Ancestors”). 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. Before the 20th century, Torajans lived in autonomous villages, where they practised animism and were relatively untouched by the outside world.
Tongkonan are the traditional Torajan ancestral houses. They stand high on wooden piles, topped with a layered split-bamboo roof shaped in a sweeping curved arc, and they are incised with red, black, and yellow detailed wood carvings on the exterior walls. The rituals associated with the tongkonan are important expressions of Torajan spiritual life, and therefore all family members are impelled to participate, because symbolically the tongkonan represents links to their ancestors and to living and future kin. Torajans perform dances on several occasions, most often during their elaborate funeral ceremonies. They dance to express their grief, and to honour and even cheer the deceased person because he is going to have a long journey in the afterlife.