Toraja Culture and Dongson Art





Toraja Culture and Dongson Art


The Toraja people are an ethnic indigenous group from Indonesia mainly associated with the mountainous regions. The Dutch colonial government gave them their distinct name in the 19th century. They also are remembered because of their animalistic belief. The belief is centered on the way of their ancestors. They are renowned for their diverse funeral rites, traditional architecture, and different art forms throughout history. Dongson art refers to the Bronze Age and Iron Age of between 1000 BCE to around 200 CE. The Dongson people possessed divergent cultural and art forms that were transferred to the large populations of Asia from time immemorial. Associated artwork and their representations helped shape the different cultures represented in major parts of the Asian cultures. The broad spectrum of the Dongson art and culture can be compared to the derived information revered to different elements of the diverse cultures from the twentieth century. Evidence from the Toraja culture does not help in understanding the Dongson culture.


Among the Torajan people, their traditional houses used wooden piles in their construction. The houses marked a central point of their social lives. During the time of the construction, all members of the family were to participate in the process as it marked their spiritual life expression. The individual participation of members marked their symbolic representation with their ancestry as well as connecting with their future kin (Adams 16). The materials used in the architecture included split bamboo for the roofing and the wooden piles. According to the Dongson art, depiction of the famous materials used in architecture of the people at the time showed different materials in use. The similar forms attributed to the Torajan culture was the use of wooden carvings in the rituals performed during the construction phase of the houses. The Torajan culture showed distinctive forms from the Dongson art in terms of composition and artifact use.

Funeral rites among the Torajan culture held a high esteem about their core elements. The rituals performed were an elaborate affair, as well as added expense to it. It was determined by the social class of the individuals as it necessitated the increase in expense and outlay. Thus, the richer the individual, the more elaborate and expensive it was as compared to a poorer and less powerful kind (Adams 10). As a representation of the ceremonial sites used in the performance of the rituals and the actual sites, the Torajan people used stone carvings to present them. Additional effigies of the dead were also contained in the caves that looked over the land. In the Dongson art, representation of the incorporated forms of rituals was included in the hypothesized Kalgren and excavations of symbols (Bleckman 16).

As an expression of the religious and social concepts of the Torajans, wood carvings were central in the manifestation. The carved wood contained special names and motifs usually symbolizing virtue in animals and plants. In some cases, elements of fertility, goodwill and success were commonly associated with the themes created. For example, the buffalo represented the wealth of a family and in some instances, was equally responsible for wishes. The common designs of the wooden carvings associated with the Torajans were represented in geometric forms, ornaments, and ethnomathematics. In sharp contrast to the Dongson art, most of the representation of the motifs were in circular objects and used approximations in pottery. In addition, the motifs used were attached figures, drums, and ceremonial pillows (Bleckman 16). In most cases, bronze and iron were used for the creation of the expressions.

The Torajans expressed their culture through their elaborate use of music and dance. It was during their performances in ceremonies such as funerals that they expressed grief, honor, and varied emotions according to the occasion (Adams 12). Monotonous chants were common, while the mar’anding dance was performed by both the men and women. The elderly women performed poetic songs. A traditional music instrument used by the Torajans was a bamboo flute, which contained six holes. Others tools included indigenous kinds made from palm leaves and jaw harps. Various occasions signified different music and dance as regards to ceremonies, harvesting, and house inauguration and play times. As for the Dongson art, the major instruments represented were the drums. Bleckman (22) states that the Dongson-style culture decorated them with adaptations on the hollow cutouts as well as use of bronze daggers as contained in the artifacts.


Dongson art and Torajan culture bear some similarities in form of the representations and adaptations borrowed from the past. Dongson art represented the periods of Bronze Age and Iron Age of between 1000 BCE to around 200 CE. On the other hand, the Torajans’ culture is signified by the commencement of the nineteenth century into the twentieth century. Despite some similarities in some elements, evidence from the Toraja culture does not help in understanding the Dongson culture. The difference was in the use of wood carvings, bronze and iron materials, adaptations of the musical instruments used in the two periods and hypothesized excavations and symbols.


Works Cited:

Adams, Kathleen M. Art as Politics: Re-crafting Identities, Tourism, and Power in Tana Toraja, Indonesia. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2006. Print.

Bleckman, Walter R. Some Dongson Motifs: Their Iconographical Analysis and Identification in Related Cultures. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburg, 2004. Print.



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