Women run screaming from their village at night, leaving all their clothes behind—possessed by spirits of the wilderness, they climb up a barana tree. It is but one of the fascinating rituals of the Toraja people described in this study.
The Toraja people live in the mountainous region of South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Their religion is an ancient one predating the Hindu and Buddhist religions that arrived in Indonesia some 1,500 years ago. It is marked by a dualism in male and female elements, a characteristic of rituals the older people in the western Toraja region, Mamasa, still remember. Three rituals, the headhunting, fertility, and tree-climbing rites, are dealt with in detail, while in the marriage, childbirth, and mortuary rituals point to a shift in Toraja beliefs. Where once both earth and celestial deities were expected to bless ritual participants, the Toraja, influenced by developments in their physical environment, now devote their attention to the deities of the heavens, while those of the earth are disappearing.
Kees Buijs (1944) worked on Sulawesi in executive training in Gereja Toraja Mamasa and supervised aid projects in education and health care. He also gathered data in the field of religious anthropology, later used in his dissertation, of which this is a revised version. Buijs is now educating leaders of the independent Churches and helping to establish centres for handicapped children in South Africa.