Sulawesi Beaded Ornament Kandaure

Artist: Artist Once Known
Culture/People: Sa’dan Toraja
Place: South Sulawesi, Indonesia
Media: Trade cloth and glass beads
Dims: 43.5 x 14 x 14 in (111 x 36 x 36 cm)
Date: early 20th century
RTC No.: AS0096
Gift of Ralph T. Coe, 2011


The island of South Sulawesi, Indonesia, is home to the Sa’dan Toraja community, a people known for their ancestral reverence and excellent craftsmanship. Pictured above is the kandaure, a stunning beaded ornament that displays not only artistic prowess, but embodies the profound legacy of the Sa’dan Toraja community.

The kandaure is innately designed to honor the ceremonial practices of the Torajan. Constructed on bamboo rods, men thread colorful beads with meticulous care. The intricate beadwork requires immense patience and skillful precision. This alone can value the kandaure to at least one or more water buffalo. Note that the price of a single buffalo can range from over $1,000 to $7,000 minimum. The cost of the kandaure can increase even more if the ornament contains rare ancient beads called masak. 

The kandaure may be considered expensive, but it is indispensable to Torajan culture. It is structured to serve two purposes during rituals. The upper portion of the kandaure is narrow and descends towards a wide base. The shape resembles a half-opened parasol with nearly fifty beaded strings stretched below the base. This enables the kandaure to either be worn above traditional clothing or used as a hanging ornament during rituals.    

The kandaure is presented during two distinct rituals: the smoke-rising rites (rambu tuka’) of the East and the smoke-descending rites (rambu solo’) of the West. These rituals derive from the traditional religion of Aluk to Dolo (Ways of the Ancestors). Christianity is now the primary religion, yet Torajans still hold deep reverence for their traditional customs. 

Aluk to Dolo’s influence is evident throughout the ornate beadwork of the kandaure. The rhombic pattern on the upper row is weaved between human-shaped figures with raised arms. This patterning represents a “squatting ancestor” figure. The “hooked” motif, primarily portrayed in the middle, is called pa’sekong. Although other colors may appear, the kandaure’s beadwork displays the traditional colors of red, yellow, black, and white. This color scheme, as well as the pa’sekong motif, are seen throughout Torajan house carvings, traditional clothing, and other works of art. 

The beaded ornament holds significant prominence during religious ceremonies. Some can be considered sacral since they contain powerful abilities essential to Torajan welfare. The kandaure symbolize abundance and are believed to bring rainfall. These attributes are vital for ceremonies such as the rambu tuka.’ This ritual consists of life celebrations such as prosperous harvests, weddings, and offerings to the gods. The most integral part of Toraja culture is the rambu solo’ ritual. This funeral ceremony depicts the utmost veneration Torajans have for their gods and departed ancestors.

On these occasions, the kandaure are proudly hung in front of traditional houses called tongkonan. These houses are a fundamental part of Torajan identity because they can directly reveal their ancestral lineage. Both the tongkonan and kandaure demonstrate the powerful union Torajans have with their ancestors. 

The kandaure can also be displayed as a complement to ritual attire during various ceremonies. Girls and young women in traditional clothing adorn themselves with beaded accessories. The kandaure is then draped on their backs with the beaded strings braided across their chest. This can be seen on bridal garments and during ceremonial dances like the ma’gellu. During mortuary rituals, women and male great-grandchildren may also wear the kandaure.

Beyond the beautiful aesthetics and expertise needed to create the kandaure, it maintains powerful connections to Torajan culture. Through the kandaure, sacred elements, such as traditional Torajan religion and ancestral homage, continue to be revitalized. In doing so, Torajan identity remains preserved throughout the test of time.

—Francesca Galván, 2024


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thesublimeblog. 2023. “Object of the Day: A ‘Kandaure’ (Sacred Ritual Ornament) from Sulawesi.” Sublime. February 6, 2023.

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Waterson, Roxana. “Taking the Place of Sorrow: The Dynamics of Mortuary Rites among the Sa’dan Toraja.” Southeast Asian Journal of Social Science 21, no. 2 (1993): 73–96.

Waterson, Roxana. “The House and the World: The Symbolism of Sa’Dan Toraja House Carvings.” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, no. 15 (1988): 46–58.

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