Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Narratives & Conversions: Proceedings of the 10th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, October 11–14, Toronto, Ontario


Copyright 2006 by the author.


The modern Toraja ceremonial attire worn for the smoke rising and the smoke descending rituals are woven in the Sa'dan Malimbong villages on back strap looms with a continuous warp using both continuous and discontinuous two-faced supplementary weft decorative elements (Christou, 1997; 2005). The smoke rising, or Rambu-Tuka', and smoke descending, or Rambu- Solo', ceremonies are a body of rituals associated with the traditional Toraja religion, or Aluk Todolo; therefore, they form the belief structure of pre-Islamic and Christian Tana Toraja (Mattulada, 1978, p. 135). The style and design elements associated with the traditional religion persist despite changes in materials and decorative techniques. The present day Toraja ceremonial attire from Sa’dan Malimbong, South Sulawesi in the Republic of Indonesia, has the same tailoring and decorative elements as the former traditional bark cloth and woven pina fibre variations. “The widths of woven cloth are important in the shaping of garments made from them. There are certain widths of looms belonging to different cultures and these influence the clothing of those cultures....It is important to historians and ethnologists because by taking note of a change in costume cut they can detect a change in population or at least the domination of that population” (Burnham, 1973, p. 34).

The purpose of this paper is to contribute to the Indonesian textile literature on Sa'dan Toraja weaving and its use in traditional ceremonies. I illustrate how cloth is important in establishing and maintaining social relationships as well as establishing cultural identity. The ceremonial attire is worn today at two life cycle events of weddings and funerals. By observing how these articles are made and worn we may have a better understanding of the Toraja culture and insight into their world view (Miller, 1985). The ceremonial attire is part of the material culture surrounding the smoke ascending and smoke descending rituals: "All these elements are appropriate to the building up of the auspicious context of the major rites" (Ibid, p. 140).

The data for this paper, as well as data for my Master’s thesis (1997), was collected during ethnographic fieldwork I conducted in the four weaving villages of Sangkombong, Sangaropi, Matallo, and To'Barana' of Sa'dan Malimbong in the Regency of Tana Toraja from June 1993 to June 1994. I lived, wove and participated in the day-to-day activities of the To’Barana’ village. By observing the weaving process and the use of the resulting textiles and clothing within the socio-cultural context, I discerned how the weaver's knowledge of the back strap loom, the techniques of patterning, and the final tailoring of the cloth offer insight into its use.