Menhirs of Tana Toraja, Indonesia: A preliminary ethnoarchaeological assessment

Ron Adams, Guillaume Robin

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

Abstract

Stone remains a prominent feature of the natural and cultural landscape of Tana Toraja, Indonesia, where outcropping basalt and limestone karst formations create a dramatic backdrop. In this context, the manipulation of stone is a significant aspect of ancient cultural traditions that persist to the present day. The quarrying and erection of large menhirs are part of this stone-working tradition that also includes the construction of rock-cut tombs and placement of smaller freestanding stone monuments. Menhirs are quarried, transported, and erected on the occasion of the largest type of funeral feast held in Tana Toraja, which can entail complex ritual practices, up to over a thousand guests, and the slaughter of what can be a staggering number of water buffaloes and pigs over a period lasting several days.

In this paper, we provide an overview of the practice of erecting stone menhirs in Tana Toraja and its social significance. Preliminary ethnoarchaeological documentation of Torajan menhirs provides insights into the methods, logistics, and social dynamics associated with this megalithic tradition. The quarrying and shaping of menhirs is done by specialized stone workers, while the transport and erection of the menhirs involves a larger labor force. The monumental plazas in which the menhirs are placed serve to commemorate the deceased ancestors and mark the prominence and wealth of the family groups with which they are associated. These spaces enshrined with megaliths also become venues for important components of ritual feasts. From a broader perspective, the enduring significance of these monuments is inseparable from the elaborate feasts in which they are embedded and for which they become an everlasting symbol. The link between the menhirs and the social entanglements of large feasts is consistent with megalithic practices observed elsewhere in the Indonesian archipelago, where monumental construction is often tied to elaborate ritual undertakings.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMegaliths of the World
EditorsLuc Laporte, Jean-Marc Large
PublisherArchaeopress
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 14 Jan 2022

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