Torajas bizarre heritage – Tato Dena’ – Aluk To Dolo

“Tato Dena’ will have time for you today“, Henry reports by SMS. I have already heard many interesting stories of the wise Tomina, who successfully withstands the claws of Christianity. It would be foolish to leave the region without having a glimpse into the spiritual beliefs. And who could be more interesting to talk to, than the master personally? The master who is currently chopping up a chicken on the edge of a rice field to please the spirits. The nobleman Puang Pantan has asked for his services. „Tato is here to bless my harvest by offering rice, a chicken, and Bolak to Takkebuku,“ illustrates Puang. „The Ma’Karoen-Roen ritual – Thanksgiving for spirits,” I hear Henry saying.

Tato Dena’ in action. With the ritual called Ma’Karoen-Roen he’s blessing the harvest of Puang Pantan.

Eyes on the offerings, the Tomina whispers some magic phrases. What a moment. In the middle of a beautiful setting, an old man with an identity card that refers to Hinduism talks to the Torajan ancestor of rice Takkebuku, right behind Tato, on the Buntu Hill near Makale, the world’s largest statue of Christ spreads his arms. And all this in the so called Muslim role model state Indonesia. The scene could hardly be more confusing. I am invited to join the second part of the ritual on the following day when they will sacrifice the special pig with a dotted head. On the traditional rice barn – Alang – I’m allowed to ask Tato Dena’ more questions. Of course, I’m interested if the Tomina sees chances for Aluk To Dolo’s to survive. The father of 8 children is quite positive, as he spreads his wisdom about the 7’777 rituals which Aluk To Dolo combines, whenever possible. On the other hand, it’s hard to keep it alive, since there is no written version about Aluk To Dolo – The way of the ancestors.

Ma’Karoen-Roen is one of 7’777 rituals which Aluk To Dolo combines. And there are 25 different ways to do it.

Especially in Indonesia, it is difficult for the minor ethnic groups to keep their beliefs alive. “There must be a god” announced the Indonesian government in 1965. A few years after independence from Dutch occupation, Indonesian citizens were forced to choose from the 5 major world religions: Hinduism, Christianity (Protestantism and Catholicism), Confucianism, Buddhism, and Islam. Everyone living in Indonesia must commit to one of these religions. At first, the Torajans insisted, because Aluk To Dolo wasn’t recognized, they then agreed in 1969 to link Aluk To Dolo as sect to Agama Hindu Dharma (Hinduism). Based on this decision all Torajans, who had not yet converted to Christianity, officially became Hindus. Neither did this affect Toraja’s daily life nor did it change the people’s view on Aluk To Dolo. Instead, the Dutch missionaries have been trying to convert Toraja since 1906. Ever since mighty priests convinced Torajan Tominas to move ahead together and focus on one only God. Both parties signed a contract. A treaty which officially allowed the Christians to convert the people of Toraja, but not to abolish its rich culture. Then, together with the Tomina, the bible has been translated into the Torajan-language, the Torajan God Puang Matua became one with the Christian God and the Prophet with the buffalo became Jesus and his donkey. Since then, little has changed. Although the majority crowds the church on Sundays, the customs and traditions are preserved in Toraja. And as long as the remaining Tominas pass on the wisdom to their children, just then Aluk To Dolo may have a chance to survive.

Tato Dena’ is worshipping the spirits because their soil has been taken over to make space for a new house

Feel free to watch the interview with Tato Dena’

… Or browse the images of my meetup with Tato Dena’