Boats on Torajan land
A tongkonan is much more than a house, it is a meeting point, a bridge between generations, a way of life, a meeting point, a philosophy and a book of symbols.
The Torajan cosmos has both a vertical and a horizontal order. Vertically, it is divided in three parts. The sky (langi) is the upper world. There are several levels in the sky and Puang Matua, the old god, lives in the upper one. He is associated to the sun and daylight. He is maintaining the balance between night and day. The ancestors for whom elaborated funerary rites have been performed and who turned into deities are also living in the sky. From there, they care for their family and for rice. The earth (lino,
On the horizontal level, the cosmos is organized as follows: the earth is a kind of huge animal whose head is at the north and whose tail at the south.
North (white) being home to the creator god, it is the most sacred direction, and all tongkonans are oriented to face north and to face the rice barns (alang). The rice barns are a miniature of the house. Since rice is associated with life and riches, rice deserves to stay in a house as beautiful as that of humans. The number of rice granaries gives information on the size of the rice fields, and is therefore also a sign of status. Sitting on the platform of a rice granary is an honor reserved to guests. The main pole holding the roof on the north side is the most sacred part of the roof. The higher part of the north face of a tongkonan is the most sacred place, being the place where the gods from the upper world can enter the house.
South (yellow) is the place of ancestors and afterlife, and decorations on the south side show it.
East (red) is associated with life, so birth ceremonies and burying of the placenta (the act establishing the roots of a family) take place there. In the house itself, the hearth is on this side, food being associated to life.
West (black) is the side for the burial rites.
Buffaloes represent strength and wealth. The number of buffalo horns decorating the front post of a house denotes the fortune and the prestige of the family.
The star and the sunrise symbolize greatness, and as such the Torajans.
The katik, a strange bird with a long neck representing the mythical bird of the creation, is a sign of nobility.
Leaves from the banyan tree, symbolizing life and riches, symbolize the connection to the upper world.
Betel leaves, given to guest as a sign of hospitality, thank the gods for their goodness.
Tana Toraja, May 2009.