Paths and Rivers: Sa'dan Toraja Society in Transformation

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By Roxana Waterson

The product of fieldwork extending over a thirty-year period, Paths and Rivers offers an unusually deep and broad picture of the Sa'dan Toraja as a society in dynamic transition over the course of the 20th century. The Toraja inhabit the mountainous highlands of South Sulawesi, Indonesia, and are well known for their dramatic architecture, their unusual cliff burials, and their flamboyant ceremonies, which place extraordinary economic demands on individuals and families. A comparative perspective sets Toraja structure in the context of the Austronesian world, but the author also delves deeply into Toraja social memory to show how people think about their past, and to examine the usefulness of history and myth as a source of identity, a template for action, or a resource for claiming presence.

The book gives a clear picture of the structure and ethos of the indigenous Toraja religion, the Aluk To Dolo or 'Way of the Ancestors', with its complex cycle of rituals. As more and more people convert to Christianity, Aluk To Dolo is in increasingly rapid decline; yet, certain Toraja rituals, especially mortuary rites and those that celebrate the rebuilding of origin houses, continue vigorously in Christianized forms. The book concludes with an analysis of the ceremonial economy, which draws upon both domestic and subsistence production and the global market economy.

The 'Toraja' ethnic identity emerged during the past century as a response to far-reaching social changes initiated by the Dutch colonial regime and accelerated through ensuing regime changes and political developments, culminating in the effervescent mood of 'Reformation' since Soeharto's fall from power in 1998. In tracing these transformations, Paths and Rivers draws together a fascinating picture of one society's journey into modernity.


Roxana Waterson is Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore. Her other publications include Contestations of Memory in Southeast Asia and Southeast Asian Lives: Personal Narratives and Historical Experience.




Publication Year: 2009
510 pages, 240mm x 150mm
ISBN: 978-9971-69-482-1, Paperback

NUS Press