Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1907 Toraja to kapua
Subjectto kapua 'big man' warrior
Culture: Sa'dan Toraja
Setting: anti-colonial resistance, Sulawesi highlands late 19th - mid-20thc

Context (Event Photos, Period Sources)

* Volkman 1985 p24-25
"The highlands ... became deeply involved with lowland kingdom rivalries in the last few decades of the nineteenth century.  In 1861 powerful Bone was attacked by the Dutch, after which its 'younger brother' kingdom Sidenreng, on the western coast, emerged victoriously upon the local scene.  In the late nineteenth century the three kingdoms of Bone, Sidenreng, and Luwu all sent traders and raiders to the Toraja highlands, seeking both coffee and slaves.
    "... Although coffee may have been planted in the highlands as early as the seventeenth century, when Goa was busy raiding the area, its real expansion did not occur until the mid-nineteenth century, when the price of beans was increasing dramatically on the European market. ... In the 1870s and 1880s agents from Sidenreng began to operate in the highlands, offering firearms (recently obtained from English gunrunners) in exchange for coffee beans.  Later Sidenreng sent bands of armed men into the highland villages, terrorizing the population and succeeding, by 1897, in controlling the coffee flow.  At this point Luwu called on its more powerful ally, Bone, which sent a contingent of red-hatted troops into the highlands, the Songkok Borrong ('Crimson Hats').  This Bone army swept through the coffee routes, but soon after their departure the highland traders turned again toward Sidenreng.
    "On the opposite side of this coin was the trade in slaves, which became substantial in this period.  In part ... the slave trade was tied to growing labor shortages on the coasts, where land was plentiful and manpower scarce (the opposite of the highland situation where land was already in short supply).  Significantly the slave trade also seemed to stabilize a fluctuating coffee market.  ... [W]hen coffee prices plunged, slaving increased, and it declined when prices rose again.  Apparently the trade in persons simply utilized already established long-distance coffee networks between Toraja elite, who controlled the routes, and the coastal courts."

* Volkman 1985 p26
"The vicissitudes of slaving and raiding in the late nineteenth century created an increasingly tense situation in the highlands.  Sesean villagers remember vividly their grandparents' stories of warfare: men fought with spears and blowguns equipped with poison darts, and women incited them from the rear, dancing with sarongs lifted, feet stamping rhythmically, and bodies spinning as they waved shields and horse-hair banners and whooped a piercing cry.  By the late nineteenth century even the style of warfare had begun to change, as firearms came into use.  And what were perceived as local dramas between rival big men were now usually episodes in a larger play.  The directors were the lowland kingdoms, the key actors their slave and coffee traders.  The Toraja elite were not merely pawns the lowlanders chose to cultivate or manipulate, but ... they too were actors in this play.  The pawns, unfortunately, were some twelve thousand highlanders who found themselves sold as slaves." 
* Draeger 1972 p214
"Toradja weapons and fighting techniques have become significant in that they have been deterrents to policies of expansionist control.  Prior to such activities of foreign elements, the Toradja fought among themselves and had ample opportunity to develop effective styles.  When the Bugis and Makassarese came to the Kendari Bay area in the southeastern peninsular portion of the Celebes [Sulawesi], they came to do trade with the nomadic Bajau.  There they encountered the warlike Toradja, who in all fairness to that spirit, must have simply been provoked into defensive action against ills, factual or imagined, they saw as concomitants with Bugis and Makassarese intervention.  Years later, the Dutch would also feel the combative reality of the Toradja." 

* Volkman 1985 p22-23
"[U]nlike their lowland neighbors the highlanders never had a centralized polity or kingdom, no concentration of potency in the person of a godlike ruler, no expression of his potency in the organization of a court.  Instead, Toraja consisted of numerous small, often competing tondok -- a word roughly translatable as 'settlement,' an elastic concept referring to a unit as small as a cluster of two or three houses hidden under a stand of bamboo, or as large as the highland world.  Between these two extremes lay a shifting tondok defined largely by marriage and ritual interaction, which could link distant house clusters, and warfare, which could separate ones nearby.  The dimensions and power of a given tondok rose and fell with the strength of its 'big men,' (to kapua): individuals of high status, wealth, and charisma who could attract substantial followings.  Big men owned large amounts of land, particularly wet rice land, and numerous retainers or slaves (kaunan), who worked this land in exchange for food.  The big men's status and power were repeatedly expressed (and often challenged) in ritual performances, which defined both individual position and relationships between dispersed tondok in the hills.  The ritual medium was most frequently meat: through sacrifice of water buffalo and pigs, and distribution of their meat, big men affirmed their 'names' and followings.  No courtly titles, no permanent office, no potent regalia ensured their continuity."


* Draeger 1972 p216
"The spear is the favorite Toradja instrument of death; it occupies a position of importance both in battle and in ceremony.  The usual Indonesian term of tombak is doke in Toradjan.  It is a practical weapon, but permits some decoration on the spear shaft which is further adorned with brilliant colors of dyed strips of buffalo hide and feather streamers.  The doke lepang and the doke kadangan are war spears.  Another, the doke pangka, is purely ceremonial.  In the hands of the redoubtable Toradja warrior, the spear was the weapon by which the enemy was most usually dispatched.  Native skills with the spear are little short of marvelous: small animals and even birds can be transfixed at twenty yards; a man at twice that distance.​    "Carried in the right hand, palm upward, the point of the weapon is held slightly downward (similar to technique on Nias Island).  The spear is given a pretoss impetus by a hopping step, left leg in the air.  The delivery is a one-legged jump onto the platform right foot."   


* Power and gold 1988 p325
"This tora-tora necklace, made of wild boar teeth and tusks attached to a piece of wood with wickerwork, was used by the Sa'dan Toraja in ritual dances as part of a highly stylized war costume.  Male dancers outfitted themselves in brass versions of water buffalo horns (signs of prestige and of success in warfare...) and wore tora-tora around their necks to symbolize masculinity, fierceness, and invulnerability to attack.  The war dance, called ma'randing, was once performed by members of the slave class.  The necklace may once have also decorated funerary puppets." 

* Borel & Taylor 1994 p202
"The tora-tora is a headhunter's necklace."


* Bangs & Kallen 1988 p153
"Each time another family was ready to make its offerings, a new parade was organized to follow the same route through town.  The parade was led by a small group of dancing warriors, each with an elaborate headdress symbolic of buffalo horns on his head."

* Draeger 1972 p218 [discussing Pong Tiku, anti-Dutch resistance leader d. 1907]
"His songkok, or 'helmet,' had iron projections in the shape of buffalo horns designed to deflect blows."

* Power and gold 1988 p132
"Buffalo horns were also important components of Sa'dan 'war suits' baju pa'barani).  At one level these costumes provided soldiers with actual armor (the vest is reinforced with shell disks).  At another, the ensemble afforded the warrior a number of magical amulets for repelling the mystical threats of enemy soldiers and spellcasters: the hat is topped with buffalo horns, symbolizing luck and success; the boar-tusk necklace plays on themes of fierceness; and the shells on the jacket have magical protective qualities."

* Benitez & Barbier 2000 p154 (describing decoration on a Toraja shield)
"[T]he white disks are like those made of shell found dotted over the woven fibre breastplates (pa'kara kara) worn by warriors."

Swords (Dua Lalan, Labo)

* Draeger 1972 p214-216
"The terminology surrounding the identification of blade styles is vast.  The Toradja fighting man's long knife is apparently patterned after the parang.  It is known in the Toradjan language as the làbó or sometimes pade, but in the Kendari Bay area it is called tolaki.  Only the làbó balange is directly designed for warfare. The làbó bale-bale is for butchering slaughtered buffalo, the làbó topang for chopping wood, and the piso or piso lampakan, for food.  Yet all can, in time of emergency, be effective weapons.
​    "The so-called buffalo knife used in killing that animal for ceremonies reveals its battlefield nature by its very name, dua lalan, or 'dual use'; it serves well against animal or man.  A long sword-type blade called kelewang in Indonesian, is known as the penai in Toradjan.  The special choppers or heavy meat-cleaver-type knives called parang upatjara or ublakas are still other blades found useful in battle."

* Hersey 1991 p60
"The swords, knives, and shields used by the war-like Toraja were also decorated.  The hilts of swords and knives sometimes end in a crocodile or naga head, and both the sheaths and hilts are often carved with geometric designs."


* van Zonneveld 2001 p123
"Shields of the Toraja living in Bilalang (Sulawesi) are usually made of leather, sometimes of wood.  Their shapes are rectangular and somewhat tapering.  They may be lavishly decorated with various geometrical patterns." 

* Benitez & Barbier 2000 p154
"Among the southern Toraja (who have taken their name from the Sa-dan River that runs through their territory) a shield is called balulang.  The shield represents a face, the main motif of which consists of two striking circles, called pa'barre allo (sunbursts), which form the eyes."  [...]​  "The shield formed part of the headhunter's equipment and also played an important role when carried by the performer of the to-maranding war dance. A group of these dancers would lead the funeral procession for a high-ranking individual."


* van Zonneveld 2001 p131
"SUMPI  [SOEMPI]  SULAWESI, TORAJA  A bamboo blow-pipe with a length of 30-40 cm.  The dart is made of a splinter of wood.  On its end we see a cone made of fibre of the banga palm.  Its tip is covered with poison (ipoh).  The range of this blow-pipe is c.25 metres.  All Toraja use blow-pipes as combat weapons."  [references omitted]

* Draeger 1972 p218
"Blowpipes are generally known in the Indonesian language as sumpit or sumpitan; in Toradjan they are called sumpi.  Like the sapuru reported on for the early Makassarese, they are quite short in overall length, ranging from twelve to fifteen inches.  Bamboo is the usual material for the blowpipe tube.  The sliver-dart projectile was tipped at its butt end with a cone of banga fiber (palm) to trap air blown into the tube and to give the needed force to project the dart.  The business end of the dart is liberally coated with ipoh, or poison; any target up to thirty yards is within range.  All Toradja tribes used the blowpipe as an instrument of war as did the Dayaks of Borneo (Javan and Sumatran tribes restricted it to hunting).  W. W. Skeat and C. O. Bladgen report that blowpipes used in Malaya were all introductory prototypes made by the Sakai who perfected this weapon.  Extended usage of the blowpipe in the archipelago is, to their way of thinking, an imitation of the Sakai technique; the blowpipe as an independently developed weapon of the Celebes is at best improbable."