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The Tolitoli of Indonesia

[IMAGE] Located on the northwestern peninsular of Sulawesi, the 29,500 Tolitoli are a sub-group of a much larger cluster of peoples known as the Tomini. Their name is a geographic and linguistic designation, and their close neighbors include the Gorontalo, the Buol, and the Western Toradja.

It was formerly thought that all of the Tomini languages were mutually intelligible and that the different names merely referred to their dialects. However, recent research indicates that each group forms its own separate language. The various Tomini languages probably resulted from the numerous trading empires that remained isolated from each other until the arrival of Islam in the 1500's. Tomini cultural history can be divided into four periods: the coming of Islam, the Dutch colonial period, Japanese occupation, and post-independence. Because the Tomini were bypassed by the Dutch missionaries, they have remained strong in their Islamic character.

What are their lives like?
Indonesia has one of the most ethnically diverse cultures in the world, with more than 300 distinct people groups. It is no wonder that many civil wars have occurred throughout Indonesian history.

Long ago, the Tomini (of which the Tolitoli are a sub-group) were governed by a sultanate, with each tribe being headed by a hereditary chief and his council of assistants. Four classes of people emerged: the royal lineage, the nobility, the commoners, and the former slaves.

In the late 1950's, movements against the Indonesian government were led by youth groups throughout the island of Sulawesi. In the Tomini region, these revolts reached a peak with the Permesta Rebellion of the 1960's. For several years thereafter, the area produced no marketable items. Since that time, the government has made an effort to improve the economy. Cloves were successfully introduced on plantations and lumber firms were also begun.

Today, the coastal Tolitoli are very active in clove production, as well as in copra (dried coconut meat yielding oil) and palm plantations. Many earn their living as merchants, while others work as lumberjacks or sailors. The highland Tolitoli cultivate dry rice, maize, and sago (a type of palm), and gather rattan (a type of wood used in making walking sticks and other wickerwork) for coastal trade.

Tolitoli villages, which are located mainly on the coastal strips, are small and consist of houses built on stilts. Marriage ceremonies follow a Muslim pattern and are arranged by a mediator. This "go-between" also negotiates the bride-price, the amount of which is dependent on the girl's social status. Marriages between cousins are preferred. Although polygyny (having more than one wife) is permitted, it is rarely practiced among the Tolitoli. Once married, a couple usually lives with his or her family until the first child is born.

What are their beliefs?
Muslim merchants from Arabia and India were among the first to introduce Islam to Indonesia. Today, Islam is the dominant religion in Indonesia and is practiced by nearly 85% of the population. The Tolitoli are mainly Sunni (orthodox) Muslim. However, many are less strict in their Islamic practices than are the Muslims in other Arab countries.

In isolated areas of Sulawesi, some Tolitoli still follow ancient local religions by mixing ancestor and nature worship with Islam and Christianity. In the inland mountain areas, there are also groups who practice animism. They believe that nature and inanimate objects have spirits. The animists are known as suku terasing, or "foreign tribes," and they have been the object of government programs, including relocation.

What are their needs?
Although two missions agencies are currently targeting the Tolitoli of Indonesia, they have very few Christian resources necessary for church growth or evangelism. Prayer and additional missionary efforts are still required for the small Tolitoli Church to be firmly established.

Prayer Points

  • Ask the Lord to call full-time missionaries to go to Indonesia and work among the Tolitoli.
  • Pray that Christian radio broadcasts, evangelical literature, and the Jesus film will soon be made available to the Tolitoli.
  • Ask the Lord to raise up linguists to translate the Bible into the Tolitoli language.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to open the spiritual eyes of the Tolitoli to the Truth of the Gospel. Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that are keeping the Tolitoli bound.
  • Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the spiritual soil of Indonesia through worship and intercession.
  • Ask the Lord to bring forth a triumphant Tolitoli church for the glory of His name!

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: Tolitoli
  • Country: Indonesia
  • Their language: Tolitoli
  • Population: (1990) 27,300
    (1995) 29,500
    (2000) 31,700
  • Largest religion: Muslim (Sunni) 99.9%
  • Christians: <1%
  • Church members: 18
  • 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: 2
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 6,800 (24%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 1,200 (5%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 5,600 (19%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 22,700 (76%)
  • 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%
    Madurese 10.7%
    Sudanese Indonesian 3.1%
    Han Chinese 2.6%
  • Major religions: Muslims 43.7%
    New-Religionists 35%
    Christians 13%
    Ethnic religionists 2.6%
    Hindus 1.9%
    Nonreligious 1.9%
    Buddists 1.0%
  • Number of denominations: 113

© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center

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