A Tongkonan is a boat-shaped traditional house in Toraja where the nobles and tribe leaders live. A Tongkonan does not only function as a place to live, but it also reflects the status of the owner in the society. Only the nobles have the right to build a Tongkonan and to live in one. Commoners live in a normal house called banua.
In Toraja society, the nobles are served by the commoners who live near them. The commoners honour the nobles as their masters. The nobles have obligations to safeguard the commoners. The nobles are not to eat food if the commoners don’t have food to eat. In this hierarchy the nobles respect to the commoners.
The Torajan society is divided into four different classes (called Kasta). The highest class is the noble kasta, followed by the middle kasta, and then the commoners. The lowest class is called the slaves.
A Tongkonan is built with the help from everybody. It is built facing north, as they believe that north and east are directions for good life. Whereas south and west are directions for the deaths and the bad.
Tongkonan have a distinguishing boat-shaped roof. Tongkonan’s roof is different to the Minangkabau houses which have buffalo-horn shape roofs. This boat-shaped roof was influenced by Torajan long seafarer history – their ancestors were sailors from China.