UBC Community, Partners, and Alumni Publications

Buginese Muslims also known as “Bugis People” Neelakantan, Vivek


The Buginese are a politically and ethnically dominant seafaring group from the Indonesian province of South Sulawesi (Sulawesi Selatan), occupying much of the province's fertile lowlands. The Buginese language (Basa Ugi) belongs to the South Sulawesi language group and is related to Makassarese, Toraja and Mandarese. Historians are uncertain about the early origins of the Buginese ( 2500 BC- 300 BC). Between 300 BC-1200 AD, the Buginese were organized into a number of small chiefdoms and practised wet-rice cultivation, especially in the upper Cenrana valley (~1200 AD). Around the thirteenth century, the Buginese experienced rapid social change due to the incorporation of South Sulawesi into the wider trading network of the Indian Ocean, that extended between China and India via the Majapahit Empire centered on Eastern Java. The thirteenth century and the associated growth of trade in the Indian Ocean, witnessed a growth in wet rice cultivation, population increase, loosely unified kingdoms and growing social stratification of Buginese society (Caldwell 2004). The transvestite Buginese priests or Bissu guarded the kingdom's regalia and have pre-Islamic roots. The earliest Buginese kingdom of Luwu (before the sixteenth century) in the Gulf of Bone controlled the iron ore trade. The Luwu Bugis united disparate tribes of interior South Sulawesi. But by the sixteenth century, the Luwu kingdom was eclipsed by Makassar. The sixteenth century witnessed the rise of Makassar as an entrepot port and the union of the Makassar kingdom of Gowa with the kingdom of Tallo. The Luwu Bugis converted to Islam (~1605). The Buginese conversion to Islam is related to the legend of the Three Datok (Mak. Dato’ Tallua and Bug. Dato’ Tellue), who were the preachers or muballigh. By 1607, the principalities of Gowa and Tallo embraced Islam. Islamization in South Sulawesi had to come to terms with Adat or traditonal customs. The Three Datok tried to draw parallels between the Shariah (legal practice derived from the teachings of the Al Quran) and Adat or customary law such that Islam was not seen as an alien belief system (Sila 2015). Islamic preachers, especially Datok Pattimang interpreted the notion of "tauhid" or absolute oneness of God,not in strictly Islamic terms, but invoked the Buginese notion of Dewata Seuwae (One God). Furthermore the preachers contended that the Buginese and the Makassarese people had descended from one God " Parewa Sara" and that the two groups were representatives of One God on Earth (Sila 2015). ~ 1605, the Dutch made inroads into South Sulawesi to secure monopoly over the flourishing spice trade of Makassar. They secured the support of the Bone Bugis to defeat Gowa in a civil war (~1669). The principality of Bone, in effect, was recognized as the overlord of South Sulawesi in exchange for Dutch monopoly of the spice trade. The eighteenth century in Makassar coincided with a period of political instability in South Sulawesi, particularly rival claims to the throne of Gowa (~ 1739) and an uprising by a commoner in 1776 that drew on Buginese resentment against the Dutch presence in Makassar. During the brief British takeover of the Indies archipelago (1811-15), the Bone palace was ransacked. Uneasy relations between the Buginese rulers and the Dutch continued throughout the nineteenth century. In 1905, the Sultan of Bone was exiled to Batavia (now known as Jakarta). The Dutch indirect rule in South Sulawesi (1905-41) made use of adat and the traditional hierarchies, extant in Buginese society. Subsequent to the conclusion of the Pacific War (1942-45), the notorious Dutch captain Raymond Westerling directed a brutal repression of nationalist forces in South Sulawesi. During the 1950s, the Sulawesi countryside was ravaged by the quasi-Islamic rebellion led by Kahar Muzakkar, a disaffected Buginese army officer. The rebels made attempts to wipe out non-Islamic elements of Buginese culture, resulting in the burning of traditional houses and manuscripts. The Indonesian central government reacted to the political unrest in the undivided province of Sulawesi by splitting the province into North and South Sulawesi in 1957. But the move did not take into account ethnic diversity of the province (Booth 2011). In the early 1960s, the two provinces of Sulawesi were split into four, an arrangement that continued until 1998. Fear of secessionist movements in the Outer Islands, fearful of Javanese political domination was the reason President Abdul Rehman Wahid (1999- 2001) disembarked on a policy of administrative decentralization. In 2004, the province of West Sulawesi or Sulawesi Barat, with the Mandarese, comprising the single largest majority, was carved out of the parent province of South Sulawesi. In this case, the role of former President B.J. Habibie (1998-99) who hailed from Sulawesi was no less important. But attempts to carve out a new province in the northeastern part of South Sulawesi could not materialise due to ethnic and religious tensions that could not be reconciled between the Buginese and the Torajans. Nevertheless, administrative decentralization since 1999 has seen increased assertion of Buginese identity in the province of South Sulawesi.

Item Citations and Data


Attribution 4.0 International