Tautau, figuring the death, Toraja – South Sulawesi


Tau tau is a type of effigy made of wood or bamboo. They are particular to the Toraja ethnic group in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. The word “tau” is a Torajan word meaning “man”, and “tau tau” meaning “men” or “statue”

The death of a royal aluk is the start of the creation of a statue or tau-tau (‘little human’ or ‘humanoid’). There are two kinds of such statues: tau-tau nangka, which made from the durable, gold-colored wood of the bread tree or jack fruit (nangka); and tau-tau lampa, made from bamboo and cloth. The tau-tau are ought to be meeting places for spirit (bombo) of the deceased.

A tau-tau man is dressed in nice traditional batik sarung with a blouse in local style and a too large jacket. His neck is decorated with chutes of encrypted gold and amulettes of pig tooth. The hat is made from old silver coins, buffalo horns and some brightly colored feathers.

Women are dressed more modest with a blouse or traditional kebaya, a bag of sirih or betel, a wide waist-band of silver coins, gold, beads and bracelets and a black cloth that is wrapped around the back of the head. On her head, there is a porcelain plate, which has the relation to the kitchen. The face of each statue is wrapped in brightly red fabric on top of that white wooden or paper eyes.

During the process, when the statue is ready, the Mebalun or the shaman kneels in front of it and turns it around to wake it up. Then he offers some pig meat and rice and a chute of rice wine. The family members give some sirih and tobacco and ask for it’s blessing and longevity. Later the women hug the tau-tau, press their face against the red face and express long complaints. After that, the statue is brought to the ritual field together with the body. After the funeral, the tau-tau is undressed. All that is left on the field is the green bamboo: the body has left to it’s ‘house without smoke’, the spirit has left for the south, to Puya and the relatives have gone home.

In richer areas, where the social stratification is stronger, a permanent wooden statue is carved besides the tau-tau lampa. These are the statues which can be found in the rock formations, which are to be found everywhere. They are also seen as meeting places for the spirit; their role is to guard the excavated grave tombs and to bless their descendants



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