Tau-tau (effigies) of the Toraya



The word tau-tau means 'little person', or, also, 'like a person'. Spoken rapidly the words sound like tatau. The tau-tau is the image of the deceased, dressed in clothing, complete with accessories and jewellery. The effigy is more than a memorial statue as we know it, for it is thought to have a soul, the soul of the deceased.

Manufacture of a tau-tau

A specialist (pande tau-tau) fashions the effigy out of nangka-wood. Certain individuals have won fame in the making of these dolls; the carving supplies them with supplementary income. Well-known pande are Teken in Kesu' and Pong Salapu in Sangalla'. Today, resemblance to the deceased is the specialist's goal. Nowadays, since some tau-tau craftsmen, Teken, or Olle, have had training in sculpture on Bali, increasing verisimilitude is being achieved but, it seems to me, at the cost of something of the fascination and mystery characteristic of early death dolls.

Manufacture of the tau-tau is accompanied by offerings. Tau-tau have the genitals of whichever sex which they represent. The dolls have movable limbs so that, for example, even the forearm and upperarm can be detached from each other. The head, too, can be removed. Old effigies found in the vicinity of ancient coffins, do not have movable limbs.

The tau-tau are clothed exactly like a Toraja of status - in an early phase of the ritual, in simple garments, but in grand apparel when he is carried to the slaughtering place of the kerbau.

Finally the tau-tau, approximately one and a half meters tall, are set up beside the rock grave. As they represent the deceased, offerings are made to them. This explains Protestant opposition to the inclusion of the dolls in the burial ceremony. At the funeral of Lai' Kalua' (end 1930's), however, a tau-tau was part of the procession in spite of the fact that, before she died, she had converted to Christianity. For the burial of a woman of prominent descent, which took place in Kesu' in 1975, a tau-tau was also created. The effigy prompted protests from several family members and from the deceased's church, the Protestant Gereja Toraja. In 1978, however, an effigy was carried in the cortege of a Christian funeral.

Function of the tau-tau

The tau-tau is fashioned before the second phase of a major mortuary ritual for the dead commences. During the manufacture of the doll, the woodcarver sleeps near (or even under) the house where the deceased lies on view. Actual work on the effigy also takes place in the vicinity of his house, possibly even on the floor of the rice barn opposite the tongkonan. When the image is completed it is placed beside the dead. Just like the deceased, the tau-tau receives food to eat (an offering, indeed, for giving food to the tau-tau is a ritual process). All this occurs before and during the second phase of the ritual, in other words for quite same time, as the time lapse between the first and the second phase of the ritual can be considerable. While the deceased is brought down to the floor of the rice barn to lie in state there, the tau-tau is also brought down and set in position before the barn. Before this the effigy stood in front of the tulak somba of the house. The doll then had on rather simple clothing, for a male tau-tau a pair of short white trousers (seppa tallu buku). The outfit remains unchanged when the tau-tau takes position in front of the rice barn. Only once the effigy together with the dead - and in the same manner - is carried in a palanquin to the slaughtering place of the buffaloes, does it acquire fancy dress. A headdress appropriate to the status of the deceased is set in place, expensive jewellery is hung round the doll's neck, and his body ornamented with sash and krisses. At the slaughtering place of the buffaloes, the tau-tau remains in the immediate vicinity of the corpse.
The tau-tau, stationed before the grave (or on top of it) keeps alive the memory of the ancestor 'of old'. Once every so many years, his clothing is changed, usually before burial of a new person of rank takes place. From a great height, one by one, the effigies are carried down where they are carefully dressed anew, later to be carried aloft again to their posts in front of the grave. "That it Puang X", people cry out as a doll is carried down from the cliffs. "And that is Puang Y". Older people often recall exactly who the effigies (in Suaya more than a dozen in all) represent.
That the effigy only plays a role shortly prior to the second phase of the mortuary ritual is probably a matter of the 'maturation' of the deceased. In the first phase of the death least, aluk pia, the 'child ritual', the deceased had not yet attained a state in which he can do anything for the rice and for his descendants. During the second stage of the death ritual, however, he already approaches that state. Then the tau-tau, the image of the deceased, the 'living dead', is stationed beside the corpse. In the course of the first phase of a death ritual for an extremely eminent personage, a temporary tau-tau is occasionally fashioned from a bamboo rod. Decked with clothes this effigy rather resembles a scarecrow. Such a temporary tau-tau is called bate lepong.





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