|As the leaves of an orchid in the win – that’s how the fierce peninsula’s of Sulawesi stretch from the Celebes Sea, Moluccan Sea, Banda Sea and Flores Sea. Inside it’s bizarre borders – formed by collisions of ancient continents -, extraordinary landscapes can be found.
The inlands are dominated by the rough, fog covered mountains, tropical rainforests, green rice fields and deep, mysterious lakes. Along the coast, beautiful coral reefs surround the sleeping vulcanoes, which rise from the sea. Remote white sand beaches surrounded by coconut trees and scattered fishery villages are flanked by rough limestone rock layers, which could have been taken directly from a Chinese painting.
On Sulawesi – formerly known as Celebes – lives an astonishing diversity of populations. Along the coasts live fishermen which hunt for sharks, tuna, flying fish, mackerel, squids and another dozen of species. Sailoring and trading populations, mainly the Buginese, Makassarese and Mandarese in the south, are known for their wooden ships with which they even sail as far as Singapore and Australia. The inhabitants of the lowlands cultivate wet and dry rice fields, grow corn, manionk, sago, vegetables, coffee, cacao and clove. Dozens of small groups of inhabitants of the highlands are specialists in ladang-cultivation. Scattered along the coast live the Bajau, which originally lived on boats of which many of them nowadays live on land.
On Sulawesi live Moslems, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and confucianists, as well as supporters of the local religions of which the names are unknown. There are dancers and drummers; weavers of silk sarongs and wealthy ikat; people which process tree bark; ironworkers and construction masters which design houses and ships.
Due to the very long coastal area, Sulawesi never has been an isolated place. For centuries, sailors have maintained connections to the island, through which not only goods, but also ideas, habits and people were transported from India, China, the Middle-East and Europe.
In the 1970’s the foreign tourists ‘discovered’ the colorful ritual life of the Toraja on Sulawesi. But this remarkable culture only contains one part – an important part however – of the complex, always changing mosaic on Sulawesi. This island has a lot to offer for those whith enough time and enthusiasm: from the mysterious megaliths in the Bada Valley to the beautiful coral gardens near Manado.
Saddle roofs and houses on piles
Traditional architecture from Sulawesi share several classical brands, which can also be found in other places in the archipelago. Pile dwellings with saddle-shaped roofs and outward tips, and mural decorations in the form of crossed horns, are widespread over the islands of Southeast-Asia. The imposant form of the Toraja-houses, with their bamboo roofs with wave upward, are clearly related to the constructions of the Toba Batak and Minangkabau on Sumatera.
Inscriptions on Dongson drums from the Bronze Age (around 500 B.C. until 100 A.D.) made on mainland Southeast-Asia and Indonesia, show similar houses and roofs. This are the earliest known images of this kind of buildings, but the style is probably a lot older. But the influence of the Dongson culture, which got much attention from architects earlier, was probably to fragmentary and to scattered to declare the spread of an architectonic construction.
The same style of building can be found further away in Micronesia, an area that didn’t get contact with the Dongson culture during the Bronze Age. New Guinea also has it’s own design of the saddle roof. This all leads to the conclusion that this unique style of building houses came from the early austronesian colonists. Their migration over the islands of Indonesia and the Pacific from the mainland of Southeast Asia started about 6,000 years ago.
Almost everywhere in Indonesia pile dwellings can be found: the walls of the Borobudur, dating from the 8th century, shows houses on piles, however a shortage of wood on Jawa and Bali caused houses to be built directly on the ground in the following centuries. On Sulawesi however, this way of construction is preferred, however masonry houses in Javanese style start to appear. Pile dwellings are remarkably cool because of the very good ventilation under the floor and offer protection against heavy rains, animals and robberies.
The second kind of fundamental structure, in which heavy logs support each other in a corner, was characteristic to Central-Sulawesi and was also used in an older and almost gone style of the Sa’dan Toraja houses. This style seems to be classic: it’s imaged on a South-Chinese drum from the Bronze Age. The instrument shows people which store wheat in two sheds with crossed logs.
The Buginese house as microcosmos
Little is kept from the older Buginese architectonical style, mainly because many houses were destroyed in the rumourous 1950’s. Older houses were associated with pagan habits by the then islamic fundamentalists. Formerly there used to be at least three styles, each with it’s own roof-shape: straight, round or saddle. Nowadays a typical Buginese house has a straight roof, which often ends in two raised tips. This can be extensions of the normal roof, sometimes with decorations.
Like elsewhere in Indonesia the house is symbolically divided into three levels: the space under the house – for animals and kitchen-trash – , the floor where the people live and the room of the roof, where the heirlooms are kept. These three levels correspondent with the three levels in Austronesian cosmologies.
Communal houses in the north
Many populations of Sulawesi used to live in huge houses, in which several families lives. They were built on heavy piles and had steep roofs to arrange the irrigation of the downpours. The typical communal house consisted of a wide central room, which gave access to two to up to as much as five separate rooms. Up to ten families could live there, each with their own fire and rice storage. This typical house has long since disappeared however; the style which is ‘traditional’ in Minahasa nowadays, was only developed in the 19th century.
Spectacular Toraja houses
In the highlands of Sulawesi, north of Tana Toraja, some populations built also houses for several families. The To Maki still do it. In Central-Sulawesi there were several styles in the first decades of the 20th century, mostly with steep roof; the tips of the roof were often decorated with woodcarvings. East of Poso you could find several types of temples (lobo) from a traditional religion. The arrival of the Salvation Army did bring much change; none of these constructions has been left.
The most vital and spectacular architectural tradition which is still much used is without doubt that of the Sa’dan Toraja. The nobility still builds magnificent saddle roofs, covered with panels which are painted red, white, black and yellow and are decorated with woodcarvings. New houses have an even bigger extension of the tip of the roof, in which the edge ends in a sharp point. This style, which is now common, used to be characteristic only fot the area around Rantepao. The still kept houses have much more short tip and are also much smaller. Lumberjacks which build these houses nowadays mainly live in Rantepao. This has also lead to a certain standardization in the patterns of the woodcarving on the wall-panels.
At the end of the 1960’s the economical growth in Tana Toraja seems to have turned around the downfall of these buildings. They are seen as an important indication of the social level of a family and as the essential place for performing ceremonies. The new wealth starts to break down the traditional social hierarchies; people that were not allowed to build big houses, can now, due to all regulations, build impressive houses themselves. Much of the money that is used for rebuilding houses, comes from wealthy migrants, which want to raise the prestige of their family.
Silk, iron, bamboo and gold
Sulawesi’s pieces of art are almost all made by hand: from the huge wooden ships, which look like Noah’s Arc, to the very refined earrings which can be found in the Makassar street of gold; from the classically designed ikat fabrics from Galumpang to the simple rattan ricebaskets in Toraja. Just like elsewhere in Indonesia are fabric, metal, wood and bamboo the most important materials.
Sulawesi is known for it’s two very different fabrics: the fine silk from the south – sometimes so fine that you can get it through a golden ring – and the magnificent, heavy ikats from Rongkong and Galumpang.
Silk is made into sarongs by the woman from South-Sulawesi for centuries. Nowadays Sopeng is the center of the silk-culture, due to a project which was started by Japanese help in the 1970’s. Much of the most fine silk threat is still being imported.
The bright colors of the modern Buginese fabrics are very remarkable: organizations of dark colors, blue, green, purple, yellow, in fact every imaginable color. Sometimes you will find a remarkable silk fabric, with ivory-colored squares with thin lines.
In Mandar, which produces the most refined silk in the archipelago, have characteristic designs in small squares, and colors are often more sober than the work of the Buginese: dark red, brown and indigo. As well as among the Buginese the natural dyes have been replaced by aniline, which are much more easy to produce. The Buginese as well as the Mandarese society doesn’t only see sarongs as desired clothing for man and woman, but also as sign for wealth and status. In the last, special designs were reserved to nobility.
Silk is not the fabric for the daily life; silk sarongs are normally only worn at weddings, Islamic days and sometimes during the Friday prayer in the mosque. It’s not uncommon in South-Sulawesi to see a well-dressed couple passing by on a motorbike, dressed in astonishing silk which is in one way or another insensitive for the dust on the road.
All fabrics are made by women. The process is complicated, and the work is heavy. At the other hand, it can be done at home, and people can stop at any moment; weaving is put away in a few seconds. In parts of Mandar, almost every woman wove silk and cotton a century ago. Nowadays it’s more rare: other work brings in more money. Above all it’s, like elsewhere in Indonesia, possible to buy clothes, ready to wear.
In contrary to silk, mainly used for clothing, the cotton ikat-fabrics were made for ceremonial carpets and death cloths. Ikat, ‘teeing together’, means that the pattern in put in the threads before they are being painted. The knitted parts are covered with a fiber which resists pains and the design of the fabric becomes visible.
The magnificent ikats from the river valleys of Rongkong and Galumpang, also traded in in other parts of Sulawesi, were originally used as death cloths. They were used as funeral banners in southern Tana Toraja. Ronkong as well as Galumpang were destroyed in the guerrilla-war from 1951 until 1964, but many of the fabrics were kept in other areas. Nowadays you can see those kind of fabrics in shops in Rantepao and Makassar because the local residents, encouraged by the high prices, sell their once precious family heirlooms. A number of spectacular examples of 19th century fabrics is still kept: this textile ‘radiates power’ by it’s monumental is ion, refined work and it’s ‘warm, orange glow, which looks like that of slacks on a ironworks fire’.
In the Indonesian rituals, fabrics and metal are often related; fabrics are associated with women, metal with men. In the part decoration, amulets and little statues of copper were made in Central-Sulawesi. Nowadays the people don’t know this art anymore. Metal processing still happens in Tana Toraja, where a number of ironsmiths still performs the job with the help of the traditional ‘Malay bellows’. A pair of connected bamboo pipes is ignited from the bottom; the smith is on top and blows the pair of bellows with several valves, which have chicken feathers at the end. Iron has a special historical meaning in this area: nickel-rich iron ore from Malili probably was the base for the scale of the kingdom of Luwu’.
Elegant silver sirih-boxes from the 18th and 19th century and the fine silver caming which are worn by young girls, are still available to buy in the gold-and silver shops along Jl. Somba Opu in Makassar, aThe craftsmanship is excellent.
Gold, most valued of all metals, is used in poems as the highest product. Village women wear it whenever it’s possible; in the past this was only for the nobility. Earlier, gold was often mixed with equal parts of silver. Modern copies in silver from Kendari can be bought in Jl. Somba Opu; refined earrings, hair pins and bracelets in gold or silver.
Bamboo and making baskets
Bamboo is used for storage and transport everywhere. They vary from a just chopped green piece of bamboo full with foaming tuak to a blackened tobacco pot, decorated with fine bamboo works and a hand-cut wooden top.
Baskets are made everywhere, but the best come from Tana Toraja. Women wear the traditional Toraja-basket, the bamboo-baka, with a woven belt around the head; the basket is supported by the back. Another ‘classical thing’ is the cone-shaped bamboo hat of the Toraja woman. Very fine woven and a wanted souvenir as well.
Islam, Christianity and adat
However the majority of the population is currently Moslem, the Portuguese and Spanish spice traders – and their catholic priests – had important relations with the states at the western coast and in the north in the 16th century. In the second half of that century, several local rulers in Siang (at the western coast), Siau, Manado and Kaidipan were baptized together with thousands of followers. In most areas such conversions were short-lived, especially after the Portuguese captain from Ternate (on neighboring Maluku) had killed the sultan there in 1570. The anti-Portuguese crusade, started by the son of the sultan, caused Gorontalo, Buton, Banggai and other parts of Sulawesi were converted to Islam.
According to legends, Islam was introduced on South-Sulawesi in 1603 by three holy mand from Minangkabau on Sumatera. After they had converted the ruling elite of the Luwu’ and Makassar, they went ahead in the southern Buginese kingdoms, among them Bone. In 1611 they had moved all the rulers of South-Sulawesi to support Islam, accept those of Toraja. Islam was (as well as Christianity) known much earlier in the south. Malaysian Islamic traders lived in the south ever since the 15th century, however South-Sulawesi was one of the few meeting points in the trade network between the islands where Islam wasn’t officially supported.
Islamic conversions in the early 17th century were radical, but didn’t always happen peacefully. A report describes the obligation of the first royal mosque in South-Sulawesi: on the evening before the first Friday prayer (the most holy time of the week) the prince of Gowa slaughtered a pig and spread blood all over the mosque. This deed is seen as sacrilege of the worst kind and was ironically done to get back to pre-Islamic dedicational rites, in which blood of bigs is put on people and objects. In Bone and Sopeng there was a strong opposition from the royals against the new religion; Islam finally entered Gowa with the tip of the sword.
Nowadays, 80 percent of the population is Islamic. It’s the islam of the Sunnite tradition with some sji’itic remains, like the festivities around Maulud, the birthday of the prophet. In all Buginese, Makassarese and Mandarese areas in the south, Kaili, Donggala, Palu and Tolitoli along the western coast, Gorontalo in the north and Buton in the southeast, the domes of mosques can be seen everywhere. The monotone call for prayer wakes every villager and city worker before dawn every single day.
Islam on Sulawesi was and is still remarkably flexible. This doesn’t mean that it’s not very serious, or that the followers aren’t strict; even the revolt which started in the 1950’s, was put in fierce islamic words. But the muslems on Sulawesi have found ways to combinate their Islamic devotion with local habits, related to ancestors and the spirits of the earth, the rice and sea, a long time ago. These combinations can be seen in numerous actions: from the boat blessings to the esotherian recitals of transvestite bissu-priests; from the magical power of the Thursday evening (malam Jum’at) and formula’s for witchcraft, to the use of ask for favors at the graves of Islamic holy persons or ancestors.
The substantial Christian population on Sulawesi (17 percent is protestant, two percent is catholic) is concentrated in the North (Minahasa and the archipelago’s of Talaud and Sangihe), in the district of Poso, and in the southern highlands of Tana Toraja, where a fast conversion process took place soon after the independence of Indonesia. Most cities know Christian minorities.
The north, where the European presence has a long history, only came under complete Dutch rule after 1800, at that time, the big conversions to protestantism took place. This conversion was strengthened by the spread of schools: at the end of the century there was a school for every 1,000 people in Minahasa, while on Jawa, there was a school for every 50,000 schools. However the protestant church has the majority, there are nowadays dozens of other sects and churches. Not all of the north is Christian: the population of Gorontalo and Mongondow is almost entirely Islamic; the last has only adopted Islam in the 19th century.
Many missionaries, varying from the reformed church to the Salvation Army have been active in Central-Sulawesi since the 19th century. Christianity later came to Tana Toraja, where the first reformed missionary was killed in 1917; his followers showed more passion with the traditional rituals. While the ritual live nowadays still blooms and has public attention, the protestant and catholic church are still working on discussions about their relation with local religion and habits.
One of Sulawesi’s interesting groups are the Bajau, formerly known as ‘sea gypsies’. For centuries they have had a nomadic life on board of little, wide boats. The Bajau are in fact one of the groups which have settled on the coasts of the Riau- and Lingga archipelago, along the coasts of Borneo and the eastern coast of Sulawesi. The origin of this sailing population is still unknown. Since the time that the history about Sulawesi is written down, the Bajau were always somewhere related to the Makassarese and Buginese centers of power. The name Bajau (‘Bojo’ in Buginese) probably originated from ajo, one of the semi-independent stated in the neighborhood of Bone and Luwu’.
As profound sailors and gatherers of sea products – especially sea cucumber (tripang) and turtle shields -, the Bajau managed to supply many of Sulawesi’s export products for trade with China. Traditionally they spent their entire lives on boats, looking down on the people who lived on the mainland. They traded with them for fabrics, food and other elementary goods.
Like many formerly nomadic populations, the Bajau are currently curfewed by the government, competition of big industries and international agreements on fishery. Many of them have merged with the populations on the mainland, but several groups still live on and around the Banggai Islands like the about 1,000 people which are moored off the coast of the islands outside Teluk Kendari in South-Sulawesi. Fishing and collecting are still their source of existence for these last semi-nomadic Bajau. Their beautiful ships are just off the coast.
East of the Line of Wallace
The well-known 19th century ecologist Alfred Russell Wallace discovered that the Indonesian archipelago is inhabited by two different groups of animals. ‘Wallace Line’ (1876), as this border is still called, runs from between Bali and Lombok and Borneo and Sulawesi. Birds and mammals on these island are remarkably different, however they are not separated by an important natural border. For botanist the line is less clear: the plants on Sulawesi seem to be closely related with those on other dry parts in the archipelago.
The little that is known from the prehistoric animal life comes from fossils, excavated in river sediments in South-Sulawesi. The findings conclude a huge turtle, a small elephant and a giant wild pig. They look like elephants, but have bent teeth which grow close to each other. TIt is suggested that they swam from the Lesser Sunda Islands to Sulawesi.
These animals have extinct several thousands of years ago, but nowadays Sulawesi is still known for it’s special fauna. Of the 127 local species of mammals, 79 can only be found on this island. The score gets even more remarkable (98 percent) when you don’t count the 45 species of bats. In comparison: only 18 percent of Borneo’s mammals is endemic. The birds on Sulawesi are less characteristic, but still very exceptional: 34 percent of the species cannot be found elsewhere; after New-Guinee this is the highest percentage in Asia.
The biggest mammal on Sulawesi is the dwarl buffalo or anoa. There are two species: one in the mountains with smooth horns (Bubalus quarleri), and a lowlander with rough horns (Bubalus depressicornis). Some villages have dwarf buffalo’s in captivity, but you can better stay away from them. However they look like a small version of the friendly water buffalo, they are aggressive and unpredictable; they are feared by the local population. Anoa’s usually live a solitary life, but do share their source of water.
The most odd mammal of Sulawesi is probably the mysterious babiroesa (Babyrousa babyrussa): the deer pig. The upper corner teeth of the male start growing normal, but later turn upwards, until they pierce the skin and curl towards the skull. These teeth are used in fights with other males. Babiroesa’s were used to be kept by former rulers and were maybe given as a gift. Probably the Buginese traders brought it to Bali, where they have probably enspired the demonic raksasa-masks. Interesting is that the Babiroesa, which doesn’t have split feet, is seen as halal by the local muslems, and can be eaten.
Nice birds and giant reptiles
The most remarkable of the 88 species of birds which only exsist on Sulawesi are the dark green bee-eater (Meropogon forsteni), the brightly colored Rhyticeros cassidix, the Celebes sparrow (basilornis celebensis), the whitenecket sparrow (Streptocitta albicollis) with it’s long tail, the black and white Celebes crow (Scissirostrum dubium) which nests in the holes which are picked in dead trees. Several spiecies are rare. The blue ayutrichomyas rowleyi from the Sangihe Islands could have been extinct recently because forest, it’s habitat, has almost completely vanished in favour of coconut plantations. The most remarkable bird is the maleo-bird (Macrocephalon maleo). He breeds his eggs in small mountains heated by the sun, warm sources or volcanic cracks. The biggest snake in the world can also be found on Sulawesi: the ten meter long python. Seacrocodiles used to be common along the entire coast, as well as in rivers and lakes. Only several decades ago the river villages had to be protected from these scavengers by firm pillaging. In local stories the crocodiles are often connected with the ancestors and are treated with respect because of this.
Threatened fish and cave-residents
Several of the most remarkable animals live around the high lakes, like Danau Matana, Danau Towuti, Danau Mahalona and Danau Wawontoa. From the sixty kinds of snails, lobster-like and fish, which are unique in these waters, there is only one, a shrimp, which lives in all four of them. Each lake seems to have developed it’s own fauna. Danau Poso and Danau Lindu both have representatives in a group of fish which is unknown outside Sulawesi. Unfortunately fish from other parts of Indonesia are introduced because of fishery, without calculating the risks to the local varieties of fish. Some of them have become rare or have even extinct by now.
Sulawesi has big limestone areas in the environment of Bantimurung (near Maros), between Danau Matana and Danau Towuti and southeast of Danau Towuti. Most of these areas have many caves, of with some of them are the longest in Indonesia. Most can be visited without special equipment until a certain depth. The cave residents which you encounter are swallows and salanganes (Collocalia esculenta), and a diversity of bats; there are also cockroaches, nightmare-like spiders, great scorpions and crickets with giant antennae. Not too long ago, an unknown spiecies of blind shrimp has been found in the caves of Bantimurung, which should have been there long enough to adapt to the dark.
Coconut thieves and sea turtles
The sandbeaches of Sulawesi are used as breeding place by four different seaturtles. The biggest is the leather turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). It has a dark brown, rugged shield of sometimes 2,5 meters long and can weight up to 1000 kilograms. It’s a powerful swimmer, which can maintain a body temperature which is 18 degrees higher than the water temperature. Individual animals move over great distances; however their action radius is limited to tropical regions, some of them have been found at the north pole.
A report of Sulawesi’s exotics would not be complete without a description of the famous coconut thieve (Birgus latro). This animal used to be widespread, but only lives on Sulawesi on small – preferably untouched – islands. What is remarkable about this lobster is the legendary inventively of collecting food. The stories go that the animal runs into a coconut tree with speed, cuts of the juicy fruit and throws it on the ground so it breaks.
Spiced rat and buffalo cheese
Travelers probably arrive in the capital of South-Sulawesi, Makassar, a city which is known throughout entire Indonesia for it’s fish and seafood. Lobsters, shrimps, octopus and crabs are roasted on charcoal here and served with rice and a sauce of fresh hot Spanish peppers. Bandeng (milkfish) or baronang (rabbit fish) – loved by foreigners because it doesn’t have much fishbone – is freshly grilled and dipped into a sweet-hot sauce, an unforgettable meal. Poaching, called pallumara in Makassarese, is another delicious method of preparing fish.
Makassar is also known for it’s dish that’s named coto Mankasara: a spicy boiled dish of shopped buffalo intestines with a tip of fresh lemon and pepper sauce. It’s normally only eaten in the morning with steamed rice.
The unique specialty of the district Enrekang is dangke, a cheese from buffalo milk, which is sometimes eaten fried. East- and Southeast-Asian cultures don’t use much diary products; buffalo milk cheese is an exception.
The mostly Christian Minahasa people from North-Sulawesi don’t seem to like any dish without much additional cabe or Spanish peppers. Each dish with the words rica-rica in it’s name is probably overloaded with a mixture of hot peppers, tomato, onions, garlicky and ginger. What brands the local kitchen is dishes that aren’t completely ‘clean’, among them wild rat, bats and of course pork. “RW” is a nickname for dog.
There are dishes for all kinds of tasted. Try the very nice pork sate, roasted on charcoal, or baked ikan mas, which is eaten with a sauce of pepper, onion and lemon; this dish is locally known as dabu-dabu. Even more nice (though uncommon in restaurants) is the boiled tuna (cakalang fufu), baked or boiled in coconut milk.
Another popular dish in Manado is tinutuan or bubur Manado, a thick spicy rice porridge with vegetables and pieces of fried fish. Milu, a very clear, somewhat sour soup made from corn, small shrimps, Spanish peppers, lemon and other tasteful additives, comes from Gorontalo west of Manado.
Tropical fruit paradise
On Sulawesi you can find banana’s in all kinds of shapes and sized, varying from the small pisang lilin (candle banana) to the big pisang tunduk (baking banana), which are consumed in different ways: raw, baked in pastry, boiled in a sweet coconut mix or like chips.
There are many fruit: the sweet jeruk siompu from Buton and limung cina from Manado are very nice. Jeruk panas (air jeruk, jeruk peres or jeruk nipis), mixed with boiled water and a lot of sugar is a nice drink even on a warm day. Markisa or passionfruit juice, available in bottles tastes wonderfull with gin.
Other local specialties are manggis, the huge nangka with it’s rough skin, and the hairy red rambutan (related to the lychee). Exotic creations like the palmyra fruit (lontar), the salak, papaya, mango, starfruit and guave fill this impressive series. And then there is the durian. In April, the climax of the durian-season, you will find stands along the road, all selling them. The odor and looks are hard to miss. You should approach it without prejustice and don’t stop too soon, you should learn to eat it.
Sulawesi’s imposing armada
The Buginese prahu probably formed the most impressive fleet of wooden trading ships in the world. Nowadays an estimated 800 of these ships are involved in the trade of wood from Kalimantan to Jawa, varying in weight from 120 to 200 tons. In the seaport of Sunda Kelapa in Jakarta, you can find as many as 200 pinisi, while Peotere, the seaport of Makassar, is full with smaller boats: ambo-boats from Buton which transport copra; pinisi with one mast which can unload timber wood from Kalimantan; motorboats from neighboring islands, loaded with passengers and vegetables and boats from remote islands which transport dried fish.
The days that the big sail-schooners transported their merchandize all over the archipelago and even stopped at small harbors have gone. Most pinisi nowadays travel between Kalimantan and Kawa with lumber as their freight. It’s still possible to see several of these ships loaded with petroleum, cement and some household products, although these boats are usually going to the outer islands. With several exceptions all boats have been motorized: the last of the real prahu pinisi of Surabaya, which only sailed, sank in 1987.
The century of the trade
When western pioneers and merchants contacted the archipelago in the 16th century, the prahu from South-Sulawesi sailed all the way to Malacca at the coast of West-Malaysia. The Portuguese apothecary Tome Pires wrote in 1515 in Malacca that the Buginese-Makassarese merchants ‘come in their well-built pajalas. They bring a lot of food: very white rice, they bring some gold. They take back fabrics from Cambay and big amounts of black raisin and incense’.
Sea maps from the 18th and 19th century show routes as far as Indo-China and Birma. Allowance to sail and other rights from kingdoms of South-Sulawesi, dating from the early 18th century, give fixed cost for freight and passengers to Malacca in the west, Cambodia in the north, and even far to the east: Papua New-Guinea.
In 1792 the English merchant captain Forrest told:’I saw fifteen pinisi at the same time in Bengkulu (along the western coast of Sumatera) 25 years ago, loaded with a mixed freight of spices, wax, cassia, sandel-wood and fabrics from Celebes’. Early European colonists at the northern coast of Australis were astonished when they saw Buginese and Makassarese prahu, which gathered seacucumber around the coasts of Australia, often with the help of the robust Bajau, the ‘sea nomads’. These goods were sold to Chinese merchants in Makassar. Even now several boats are cought which fish in Australian waters illegally. The men maintain a centuries-old tradition of hunting down seas on the coastal plateau of Australia. In the 19th century a fleet of 800 prahu padewakeng sailed from Bodu on the Moluccan Aru Islands to Singapore and returned with a wealth of goods, among them cotton fabrics, gold dust, birds nests, turtle shields, feathers, tripang, sandel-wood, coffee and rice. The future raja of Sarawak, James Brooke, wrote in his diary: ‘The profits for the Buginese are usually made on the return trip; it mainly consists of weapons, gunpowder, opium and cotton’.
The trade routes from the past centuries were decided by monsoons. In March, ad the end of the wet season, the ships used the decreasing western winds to sail to the eastern part of the archipelago, where they picked up local products. In April, when the eastern monsoon started to build up, these goods were brought to places along the coast of Jawa, Kalimantan and Sumatera and traded for other goods. Upon return of the western monsoon in September, the sailors went home, to moor their ships during the stormy months of December and January.