The Tolitoli of Indonesia
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?
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?
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?
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
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Bethany World Prayer Center
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