Most of the population is Christian, and others are Muslim or have local animist beliefs known as aluk ("the way"). The Indonesian government has recognised this animistic belief as Aluk To Dolo ("Way of the Ancestors").
The word Toraja comes from the Buginese language term to riaja, meaning "people of the uplands". The Dutch colonial government named the people Toraja in 1909. Torajans are renowned for their elaborate funeral rites, burial sites carved into rocky cliffs, massive peaked-roof traditional houses known as tongkonan, and colourful wood carvings. Toraja funeral rites are important social events, usually attended by hundreds of people and lasting for several days.
Before the 20th century, Torajans lived in autonomous villages, where they practised animism and were relatively untouched by the outside world. In the early 1900s, Dutch missionaries first worked to convert Torajan highlanders to Christianity. When the Tana Toraja regency was further opened to the outside world in the 1970s, it became an icon of tourism in Indonesia: it was exploited by tourism development and studied by anthropologists. By the 1990s, when tourism peaked, Toraja society had changed significantly, from an agrarian model — in which social life and customs were outgrowths of the Aluk To Dolo—to a largely Christian society. Today, tourism and remittances from migrant Torajans have made for major changes in the Toraja highland, giving the Toraja a celebrity status within Indonesia and enhancing Toraja ethnic group pride.