The World's Eleventh-Largest Island

Sulawesi, formerly known as Celebes (/ˈsɛlɪbz/ or /sɪˈlbz/), is an island in Indonesia. One of the four Greater Sunda Islands, and the world’s eleventh-largest island, it is situated east of Borneo, west of the Maluku Islands, and south of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago. Within Indonesia, only Sumatra, Borneo and Papua are larger in territory, and only Java and Sumatra have larger populations.

Sulawesi is the world’s eleventh-largest island, covering an area of 174,600 km2 (67,413 sq mi). The central part of the island is ruggedly mountainous, such that the island’s peninsulas have traditionally been remote from each other, with better connections by sea than by road. The three bays that divide Sulawesi’s peninsulas are, from north to south, the Tomini, the Tolo and the Boni. These separate the Minahassa or Northern Peninsula, the East Peninsula, the Southeast Peninsula and the South Peninsula.

The Strait of Makassar runs along the western side of the island. The island is surrounded by Borneo to the west, by the Philippines to the north, by Maluku to the east, and by Flores and Timor to the south

The island slopes up from the shores of the deep seas surrounding the island to a high, mostly non-volcanic, mountainous interior. Active volcanoes are found in the northern Minahassa Peninsula, stretching north to the Sangihe Islands. The northern peninsula contains several active volcanoes such as Mount Lokon, Mount Awu, Soputan and Karangetang.

Sulawesi Marine Tradition

With its long, elegant bow, towering twin masts, streamlined wooden hull and seven billowing sails, the traditional Indonesian sailing ship known as a pinisi evokes a bygone era. SeaTrek’s vessels Ombak Putih and Katarina are built in the pinisi style. Built by hand in the traditional manner, they continue the living spirit of majestic sailing ships from the golden age of sail, which ended in the West in the early twentieth century, but thrived until recently in the waters of Indonesia.

Today the name ‘pinisi’ lives on in big, motorised timber traders that carry goods between small harbours across the archipelago. Although they carry only tiny auxiliary sailing rigs, today’s traders are still build by hand using traditional techniques, in many places where the famous, seafaring Bugis people of Indonesia are to be found.

The Bugis people originating from the island of Sulawesi, and for centuries they (along with their close neighbours from Sulawesi, the Makassar) have designed and built their own distinctive types of sailing craft to carry cargoes across the shallow seas of the Indonesian archipelago. Following the monsoon winds, they sailed from island to island gathering exotic feathers, sandalwood, spices and gold to sell at a significant profit in distant ports like Singapore. After offloading their wares to eager merchants, they would fill their holds with European and Chinese manufactured goods to bring back to their homeland.

For centuries the Bugis plied these waters journeying as far away as Malacca and Australia in a variety of types of ships. They were not only respected as master seafarers but were sometimes greatly feared as pirates and slavers. They often plagued trading ships of the British East India Company and the Dutch East India Company (the V.O.C.) It is popularly believed these encounters resulted in the European sailors carried their term for these feared “Bugi-men” back to their home countries. Even today, parents around the world may tell their children that if they misbehave, the “bogeyman” will get them.

The Bugis remain best known for their skills as master shipbuilders. Wooden boat-building expertise has been passed down from generation to generation, a knowledge that is further honed through daily practice with the help of each builders’ instincts and natural gifts. Pinisi prove that Bugis tradition and culture have survived current technology and modernity.
With reliable transportation always at hand, the Bugis have migrated far across the archipelago, settling in Java, Kalimantan, Sumatra, Papua, and the Nusa Tenggara islands. The Bugis people have continued to build pinisi on the beaches of their home in Sulawesi, and in their new settlements, provided sufficient wood is available. And so it is that in the small village of Wera on Sumbawa island that the SeaTrek fleet and its passengers are treated to warm hospitality from the “Bugi-men” and an unforgettable encounter with their incredibly crafted pirate-descended ship, the pinisi.

Marine Bio Diversity

The Sulawesi Seascape is one of eleven functional seascapes within the Indonesian part of the delineated Coral Triangle and it encompasses the North Sulawesi coastline up to and including Sangihe and Talaud Island Chains, and as far north as southern tip of Mindanao Island in the Philippines.

In assisting the Government of Indonesia to meet its goal of establishing 10 million hectares of effective Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) by 2010, we have began to design, implement and improve the effectiveness of management of the network of MPAs in the North Sulawesi Seascape, Indonesia with the aim to improve the delivery of both biodiversity and human livelihood benefits.

This region forms part of the diverse Sulu-Sulawesi Sea Marine Ecoregion, which is situated in the heart of the Coral Triangle and is world-renowned for its coastal and marine biodiversity, including 70 genera of corals and about 2,500 fish species. The project will focus on strengthening the scientific foundation for coral reef ecosystem management decisions, scaling up community-based MPAs to identify shared goals and approaches, linking to other sites that have been proposed or are under discussion for MPA designation, and building the technical and professional capacity for management amongst local and provincial resource managers.

Traditional Architecture

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.

Enscriptions 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 fragmentaric 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 Guinee 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 migrationf over the islands of Indonesia and the Pacific from the mainland of Southeast Asia started about 6,000 years ago.

Pile dwellings

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 Jawanese 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 eachother 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 extentions of the normal roof, sometimes with decorations.
Like elsewhere in Indonesia the house is symbolically devided into three levels: the space under the house – for animals and kichen-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 downpoors. The typical communal house consisted of a wide central room, which gave acces to two to upto 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 spectactular architectural tradition which is still much used is without doubt that of the Sa’dan Toraja. The nobility still buids 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 extention 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 standardisation 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.