Academic journal article Ethnology

Making-Up the Toraja? the Appropriation of Tourism, Anthropology, and Museums for Politics in Upland Sulawesi, Indonesia

Academic journal article Ethnology

Making-Up the Toraja? the Appropriation of Tourism, Anthropology, and Museums for Politics in Upland Sulawesi, Indonesia

Article excerpt

Over the past fifteen years anthropologists studying ethnic phenomena have rejected older conceptions of cultural identity and tradition as stable, bounded realities born out of the past, turning instead to embrace a notion of cultural identity as a dynamic, ongoing process of negotiation and political contestation. As the essays in Hobsbawm and Ranger's volume (1983) as well as recent works by Keesing (1989), Linnekin (1983), Clifford (1988), Handler (1988), and others have shown, traditional identities do not simply draw on the wellsprings of the past but are infused with the politics of the present.

Starting from the notion that tradition is a political construction, yet anchored in the concern with the politics of culture and identity, this essay examines how a hinterland group of Indonesian people, much scrutinized by both tourists and anthropologists, is now drawing on and manipulating these very global powers for its own ends. While much has been written on the ways in which culture is manipulated for the consumption of outsiders (cf. MacCannell 1973; Greenwood 1989 [1977]; Cohen 1988), the focus here is on the ways in which outsiders are co-opted for local power contests. As this case suggests, no longer can anthropologists and tourists imagine themselves as peripheral to local constructions of identity and power. Moreover, the literature on ethnic tourism tends to assume that tourism inevitably brings a loss of agency to local peoples. This article proposes problematizing such global assumptions. As the Toraja material suggests, in the face of tourism (and anthropological celebrity), Torajans continue to be active strategists and ingenious cultural politicians.

In the following pages I explore how, in the present context of tourism, nationalism, Christianization, and anthropological study, Torajan ideas about the ancestral authority of the elite are actively being re-evaluated and contested by lower-ranking members of society. While those without claims to aristocratic status struggle to propagate their own versions of Torajan culture (versions which challenge the elites' sanitized representations of "Toraja with make-up"), Torajan aristocrats engage in a variety of enterprises designed to bolster their own local pre-eminence. In this contest, anthropology and tourism figure prominently in both nobles' and commoners' interested versions of culture and status.

Today, politically savvy Torajans recognize anthropology and tourism's potential for validating and amplifying particular versions of culture. As illustration, this essay describes several cases in which anthropologists and tourists are drawn into the authority-building projects of both elites and commoners, and explores some of the ironies inherent to these local battles over the representation of cultural traditions.


In a nation of 185 million, the Sa'dan Toraja people of upland Sulawesi, with whom I conducted over two years of field research in 1984-1985, 1987, and 1991, are a small minority of approximately 350,000. They are marginalized by island geography, religion, and a diffuse power structure. The Toraja's closest neighbors are the lowland Islamicized Makassarese and Buginese peoples, the dominant ethnic groups of the region. In contrast to the highly developed kingdoms of these neighboring peoples, the Toraja never had a centralized political kingdom. In the past, these swidden and wet-rice agriculturalists lived in scattered mountain-top settlements, maintaining social ties through an elaborate system of ritual exchanges (Nooy-Palm 1979). Only with the arrival of the Dutch colonial forces in 1906 were the Sa'dan Toraja united under a single political authority.

Several years after the Dutch annexation of the highlands, missionaries from the Dutch Reformed Church began proselytizing amongst the Toraja.(2) Conversion was initially slow but gathered tremendous momentum in the 1950s and 1960s. …

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