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The Toala of Indonesia

[IMAGE] Indonesia is the fourth most populous nation and continues to grow rapidly. It has one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the world, many of which are Muslim. The Toala are one of over 300 distinct people groups living there. The Indonesian islands act as vital sea routes between Asia, Europe, and Australia. They are also the principal link between the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

The Toala live in eastern central region of Sulawesi (or Celebes), one of the major Indonesian islands. Sulawesi is a large, crab-shaped island that is generally mountainous and marked by volcanic cones. The Toala live near the valleys of the Poso, Laa, and Kalaena Rivers.

Numerous other tribes live among the Toala, all of whom are similar in religion and culture. They also all speak dialects of one common language. Unfortunately, while most of the other groups are highly Christianized, the Toala have remained staunch Muslims.

What Are Their Lives Like?
Prior to the twentieth century, the Toala highlands were often raided for coffee and slaves. Headhunting raids to avenge the death of a kinsman were also common.

Most Toala raise all of their own food. Rice, the major crop, is planted in terraced paddies and harvested by hand. Single metal-bladed plows drawn by water buffalo or men are still in use. Toala farmers also grow maize, chilies, beans, yams, and potatoes. Cash crops include coffee and cloves. They also gather snails, eels, and small fish from unplanted wet rice fields. Domestic animals include chickens, pigs, and water buffaloes, which are sacrificed on ritual occasions.

Villages tend to be small and are located either on hilltops or scattered along the plains. As many as four to six families may live together in one house. Villages are based on local "kin groups," with all of the members being related by blood or marriage. Emphasis is placed on respect for one's elders, diligence, and the importance of the family over one's individual and personal needs.

In the past, some marriages of the aristocracy were polygynous (having many wives), but today most are monogamous (having only one spouse). Once married, a person could choose to live in the village of his father, mother, or spouse. Some marriages are still arranged by the parents; but today, most young people are allowed to select their own mates.

Adoption is a very common occurrence among the Toala. Children are reared by both their parents and their siblings. It is believed that family ties can be extended and strengthened by allowing relatives and friends to adopt one's children. In such cases, the children will often move back and forth between the households of their adoptive and biological parents.

The Toala are known for their elaborately carved houses and rice barns, as well as life-size statues of certain wealthy, deceased aristocrats.

What Are Their Beliefs?
The Toala are 99% Sunni Muslims. However, various forms of animistic practices (belief that non-human objects have spirits) have continued to influence their culture.

Among the Toala, the funeral is the most critical event in life. They believe that this ritual allows the deceased to leave the world of the living and proceed to the next. Funeral ceremonies vary in length and complexity, depending on one's wealth and status.

What Are Their Needs?
Among the 37,000 Toala, there are only 318 known believers. The combination of their staunch Islamic beliefs mixed with animism has made them very difficult to penetrate with the Gospel.

There is a single missions agency currently targeting the Toala. Unfortunately, they have access to very few Christian resources. The Bible has not yet been printed in their native language, Toala-palili. Neither are there any local Christian radio or television broadcasts available. Who will tell the precious Toala that life can only be found through Jesus Christ?

Prayer Points
  • Pray against the spirit of Islam mixed with animism that has kept the Toala bound for many generations.
  • Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to Indonesia and share Christ with the Toala.
  • Pray that Christian literature, radio broadcasts, and television programs will soon be made available in their language.
  • Ask the Lord to send missionaries who can effectively minister the Gospel to Muslims.
  • Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the 318 known believers.
  • Pray that their government will open its doors to Christian missionaries so that the Gospel may be preached freely.
  • Pray that God will raise up qualified linguists to translate the Bible into Toala-palili.
  • Ask the Lord to raise up a strong local church among the Toala.

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: Toala (E. Toraja)
  • Country: Indonesia
  • Their language: Toala-Palili
  • Population: (1990) 34,200
    (1995) 37,000
    (2000) 39,800
  • Largest religion: Muslim (Sunni) 99.1%
  • Christians: <1%
  • Church members: 318
  • Scriptures in their own language: None
  • Jesus Film in their own language: None
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
  • Mission agencies working among this people: 1
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 8,800 (23%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 2,200 (6%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 6,600 (17%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 28,200 (77%)
  • Country: Indonesia
  • Population: (1990) 182,811,600
    (1995) 197,587,700
    (2000) 212,730,600
  • Major peoples in size order: Javanese 26.2% Javanese Indonesian 10.7%
    Sudanese 10.6%
    Madurerse 5.7%
    Sudanese Indonesian 3.1%
  • Major religions: Muslim 43.7%
    New Religionist 35%
    Christian 13%
  • Number of denominations: 113

© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center

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