The following description is based upon fieldwork conducted in 1991 at Malimbong, Rembon, in the district of Saluputti, Tana Toraja. The article focuses on the ritual art of making an effigy of an old woman called Ne' Bine' (80 years old) who died in 1989 and was given a high class (rapasan) funeral ceremony which was still based on aluk to dolo in 1991.

The rites and wood material of the tau-tau may vary from region to region and in accordance with the social status of the deceased. Some people are permitted only to have tau-tau lampa, 'the temporary effigy which is made of bamboo'. Others may afford to have tau-tau made of kapok tree. The high class people may have an effigy which is made of jackfruit tree.
The effigy of Ne' Bine' is made of jackfruit wood (nangka), one of the highest quality of wood material reserved for a noble man and noble woman only. As we know, in Toraja man and woman have an equal right to have an effigy. The construction of an effigy of Ne' Bine' is an integrative part of the second part of the death ritual, which was carried out from July to August 1991.
The person who carved Ne' Bine's tau-tau is called Ne' Sanda. At the age of 70 the master artist has been able to make three effigies. He claimed that he was the only effigy maker, being available for the villages of Kole and Ulu Salu. This means that only the person of utmost importance in the villages could have the tau-tau. He strongly criticized the present style of effigy whose face resembled the face of the dead person. For him, such construction has lost its sacred quality.

Effigy in Toraja is called tau-tau, and this word is derived from the root tau (its cognate form is to) which means 'person'. The reduplication form of tau-tau implies a negative sense, that is 'not a real person'. It is sometimes called bombo, 'spirit' or payo-payo, 'shadow'. Within the death ritual context, tau here refers to to mate, 'dead person' while tau-tau refers to its representation so the contrast is between tomate and tau-tau. How are we to understand the relationship between the two within the cultural framework of Toraja people?
While many people have interpreted this effigy as a representation of the dead person (patung orang mati), one must be careful of such interpretation because it seems to emphasize the death aspect of it. Rather, this effigy is best understood as an ancestral figure emphasizing the Torajan worldview of the principle of continuity of cyclic life.

This principle is culturally played out in three cultural forms of eulogizing the effigy (massinggi'tau-tau), the ritual of making an effigy (manggaraga tau-tau) and the death ritual (rapasan), the structure of which bears iconic relationship to each other.
The text of eulogy of the effigy (singgi' tau-tau), which is narrated by the ritual specialist (to minaa) after the completion of the effigy has the structure which consists of the beginning of life in heaven, life in this world and life after death. The purpose of making the effigy is to symbolically enact such continuity of life, through the mediation of east ritual and west ritual interchangeably performed within the totality of death ritual context. One can not fail to note that a number of rites performed in the death ritual are actually structured on the opposition between life and death (as it is exemplified in the opposition between ma'karu'dusan, 'to cause the dead person to die' and ma'tundan, 'to cause the dead person to wake up').
The first section of eulogy deals with the two phases of life: the heavenly origin of life, the mythical reality of pregnancy and childbirth in heaven, and the earthly life in this world.
The heavenly origin of life is performatively enacted by pande tau-tau (the effigy maker) by carving the head and the body of an effigy on the wood material of a jackfruit tree. All rites that accompany the fashioning of the head and the body of the effigy are classified as life ritual (aluk rampe matallo). The art work begins after performing the rite of ma'tundan, 'to wake up the dead person', the rite of the second part of the high class death ritual. Using a pencil and a sharp knife, the effigy maker begins to fashion a life-size effigy detailing each part of the body from the face (dibala lindo) to the legs and arms (ma'lette' and ma'lima').
After shaping the head, the effigy maker continues to carve in sequence the mouth (ma'sadang), nose (ma'illong), eyes (ma'mata), ears (ma'talinga), teeth (mangngasa isi), neck (ma'baroko), breast (ma'barangkang), waist and sexual organ (ma'lassak), legs (ma'lette'), and arms (ma'lima), each of which is respectively preceded by a rite of sacrificing a pig (bai todi') used as an offering to both deities and the ancestors.


When the carving is finished the rite of massabu is performed to mark the completion of the effigy. This part is the symbolic enactment of the birth of the noble lady. One pig is sacrificed for an offering to the deities and ancestors. The performance of this rite marks the beginning of a number of activities for the coming big ritual.
The eulogy further talks about the second phase of life, focusing on the growth of the noble lady from childhood to maturity, her agricultural activities and ritual achievements in this world (lino). Within the ritual context of carving an effigy, such growth is symbolically enacted in the rite of cutting the hair (ma'ku'ku') for the first time, the rite of giving attire to the effigy (ma'pake), and the rite of betrothal (ma'pasa' tau-tau).
The rite of cutting the hair signifies nobility and marks the separation from the previous world. In this ritual event one pig is sacrificed, the meat of which is used as offerings for deities and ancestors.
Once this is over the effigy is given attire and accessories according to sex (ma'pake). The effigy is dressed in traditional Toraja clothing and the use of such costumes symbolize maturity. Over her head is placed a folded sarong (lullung) which indicates the style from that area. Around her head is tied the sa'pi' (a kind of ornament made from beadwork and silver), the front part of her head is given ornament consisting of strips of bamboo with curly ends (pangngarru'), spangles of goldleaf (tida-tida), and chicken feathers (bulu manuk) . A necklace (manik kata) beautifies her neck, and around her waist is tied the beadwork (ambero). Over her shoulder a small pouch containing betel nuts (sappa manik) is hung.

As soon as this work has been completed the effigy is placed at the west side of ricebarn facing the house in which the dead person is located.
In the following several days the rites that are performed center on the wrapping of the bodily remains (mebalun). Previously, the body is let to decompose in the temporary boat-shaped coffin (karopi').
Further in eulogy, it is mentioned that as she becomes adult she goes to the market and meets her partner there. Within the ritual context, on the day when the temporary coffin is buried, this event of meeting a spouse is performatively enacted in the rite of ma'pasa' tau-tau . It is a kind of the rite of betrothal which is performed by carrying the effigy in a ritual procession to the market on the market day at Rembon. As the procession arrives the effigy is put to rest. People in the market come to bring the offerings such as betel nut, tobaccos and others. A pig is sacrificed to mark this event.
The next day the rite of ma'parampo tau-tau, 'marriage ceremony' is performed. This rite enacts and commemorates the marriage ceremony of the dead person. Another pig is sacrificed for the day. Finally, the second section of eulogy talks about the most important rite which marks the transition from the earthly life to the heavenly one. This transition is enacted in the rite of ma'tatau, 'the conversion ritual' which is a kind of the rite of passage entering into the next phase of life. After being given some offerings and food the effigy is turned first to east (symbol of life) and then to west (symbol of death).
At this point the effigy partakes in the next phase of life of the deceased (life after death). As it is narrated in eulogy, the soul travels to south and ascends to sky and becomes deified ancestors (to membali Puang). When the funeral procession is made to the funeral site the effigy goes with it. And when the dead person is interred into a stone grave the effigy is also put there. Traditionally, the effigy is placed on the balcony in front of the grave but considering the fact that the stealing of effigies have increased in the past several decades, Ne' Bine''s tau-tau is placed inside the grave.


  After a long period of time, the ritual of conversion for effigy is further reinforced by the rite of ma'balik bane'. By performing this rite the family members believe that the soul has turned into deified ancestor (tomembali puang), which according to some, is then manifested in the effigy. The tau-tau then functions to re-present life cycle of the deceased with the emphasis on the continuity of life after death, the pinnacle of life which can be achieved only through the mediation of death ritual. For that very reason tau-tau is best understood as the representation of ancestral life.
The tau-tau is respected by Toraja people and it is held to be sacred. When tau-tau has been placed on the balcony in front of the grave it is strictly forbidden to touch it except on the ma'nene' ceremony (contacting the ancestors). In this ritual event, the clothes of tau-tau worn out by rain, sun and wind should be changed. When the family members want to give an offering to the dead, it is placed on tau-tau's palm.

Author: Stanislaus Sandarupa
Hasanuddin University, Makassar (South Sulawesi)
The University of Chicago