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Masjid Tua Palopo also known as “Palopo Old Mosque” Neelakantan, Vivek


Masjid Tua Palopo or the Palopo Old Mosque is a seventeenth century royal mosque located in the Indonesian city of Palopo, South Sulawesi that was a part of the erstwhile Buginese principality of Luwu until 1905. Palopo in the Buginese language etymologically refers to insertion of pegs in the holes of the pillar of buildings during construction. The word Palopo in itself describes the specific process of mosque construction. According to anthropologists and historians specializing on South Sulawesi, Luwu is in some ways central to understand the cultural history of South Sulawesi. Luwu was the most powerful kingdom in pre-Islamic South Sulawesi between the tenth and the fourteenth centuries. The Lontara ( Buginese palm-leaf manuscripts) claim that at the time petty principalities from South Sulawesi such as Selayar and Buli-Buli claimed that their first kings originally came from Luwu. South Sulawesi, particularly the principalities of Gowa and Makassar, were acquainted with Islam since at least the sixteenth century. At the time, Malay traders had settled on the Southwestern coast of Sulawesi. During the reign of Makassarese king Karaeng Tuni Pallangga (1546-65), Muslim traders from Champa, Patani, Pahang, Johor and West Sumatra secured several concessions in the port city of Makassar. At the turn of the seventeenth century, South Sulawesi was drawn into the maritime trading network that included Champa, Pattani, Aceh, West Sumatra, Banjarmasin, Giri and Ternate. Historians contend that Islamization in South Sulawesi dates to the Legend of the Three Datok. The Three Datok were Minangkabau muballigh or preachers from West Sumatra who succeeded in converting the local rulers to Islam. Historians contend that the expansion of Islam in South Sulawesi was gradual. Initially, until at least the turn of the seventeenth century, the Buginese principalities of Bone, Wajo and Soppeng rejected Islam. Oral tradition of the Buginese mentions that before the Three Datok arrived in Gowa, they reached the Buginese kingdom of Luwu and succeeded in converting the local ruler Datu Payung Luwu (the holder of Luwu's Umbrella) La Patiware Daeng Parabbung (also known as Sultan Muhammad after his conversion to Islam in 1604). Historians are uncertain about the duration of his reign (see also Andaya 1981). The Islamization of South Sulawesi kingdoms involved the blending of Islam with Adat (customary law) such that Islam was not seen as an alien belief. Datok Patimang, for example, drew parallels between the Islamic notion of Tauhid or Oneness of God with the Buginese notion of One God, Dewata Seuwae. Historians contend that the Three Datok chose Luwu for initially propagating Islam instead of the Buginese principalities of Bone or Wajo or the Makassarese kingdom of Gowa for two strategic reasons. First, Luwu was the cradle of Buginese nobility. Second, places mentioned in the Buginese epic I La Galigo were associated with the principality of Luwu. The conversion of the ruler of Luwu in turn, would pave way for the Islamization of South Sulawesi, more generally. The construction of Palopo mosque by Datok Patimang in 1604 was representative of the Islamic character of the Luwu principality. The mosque also indicated the shift of the Luwu capital from Malangke to Palopo. The latter was on the coast and was well-connected with coastal trade. A salient character of royal mosques in Indonesia, including the Palopo Old Mosque, is proximity of the mosque to the Luwu royal palace. The Old Mosque's architecture reflects a fusion of pre-Islamic Buginese and Islamic symbolism with Javanese architecture and embodies traces of Hindu-Buddhist and Chinese art. In accordance with Buginese cosmology, the Soko Guru Tunggal or the mosque's main pillar indicates Posi Bola or the central position of twelve Luwu Buginese clans and the center of the Luwu principality. The main pillar is also representative of the Buginese traditional house. From an Islamic perspective, the Soko Guru Tunggal represents individuals' relationship with God. Apart from the Soko Guru Tunggal, the mosque foundation is supported by four Soko Guru. The five Soko Guru represent the five commandments of Islam (profession of faith or shahada; prayer or salat; almsgiving or zakat; fasting during the Holy Month of Ramadan; and, Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca at least once during lifetime). The five Soko Guru also collectively represent Buginese Adat or Pangadereng. The five main pillars of Pangadereng include Wari (Order), Tuppu (Harmony), Rapang (History), Bicara (Written Law) and lastly, Adat anchored in Sara (Sharia or Islamic Law). The Old Mosque of Palopo has a rectangular layout. The three-layered Tajug roof structure is influenced by Javanese architecture. The roof structure incorporates Memolo decoration, symbolic of Mount Meru or Semeru of Hindu and Javanese cosmology that is considered to be the center of physical, spiritual and metaphysical universes. Above the apex of the roof, a blue ceramic jar is placed upside down. The inverted ceramic jar represents a Sufi theme: the unfathomability and oneness of God. From the perspective of Islamic values, the three overlapping roof structures represent surrender to the will of God (Islam), faith (Iman), and Ihsan (perfection).Twenty large windows of the Old Mosque represent the twenty attributes of Allah. Ventilation of the mosque depicts the Bulu or Turtle analogy. Turtle represents humility. The walls and Soko Guru were constructed from locally available materials. The thickness of the walls is approximately three feet and were constructed out of a mixture of locally-quarried mountain stones, egg white mixture and lime. Locally available Cinna Guri hardwood (botanical equivalent unknown) was used in the construction of the Soko Guru. Lotus motifs, evident at the base of the wall of the old mosque, reflects Javanese Candi (Hindu-Buddhist shrine) art. The Mirhab (prayer niche in the west-facing Qiblah Wall facing Mecca) is influenced by the Candi architecture of ancient Java. The main gate of the mosque is shaped like a Makara, a mythical sea-animal (probably a crocodile according to Apte's Sanskrit Dictionary, published in 1957). The Makara is a distinct Javanese imprint on the Palopo Old Mosque's architecture. The Makara is a decorative and symbolic element of Hindu-Buddhist temple architecture of India and Java. As an aquatic creature although the Makara is an affirmative symbol producing life in its endless convolutions, the Makara as the mount (vahana) of river goddess Ganga epitomizes the destruction of life. The union of Makara and lion is depicted in ancient Indian and Javanese art. In the Hindu art of Indonesia, the joint figure is known as the Kala-Makara; the lion with its voracious nature, depicts the sun that consumes all things in its role as an instrument of time. In Indic thought, Kala-the word for time-becomes a synonym for death and thus a designation of Yama or the Hindu god of death (Darian 1976). The rectangular shape of the Palopo Old Mosque is identical to the features of the Javanese Pendopo (a fundamental element unique to central Java). The Pendopo is a large pavilion-like structure built on four columns and provides ventilation and sunlight. The Pendopo symbolizes the equality amidst the congregation. A study of the Palopo Old Mosque indicates that the gradual Islamization of South Sulawesi did not affect local architectural styles. On the contrary, local architecture from the Indies archipelago blended with Islamic symbolism and influences from Java. A salient feature of royal mosques in the islands of Java and Sulawesi is tomb of the Sufi mystic behind the mosque, an Austronesian tradition, that reflects reverence for one's ancestors. What distinguishes the Palopo Old Mosque from its counterparts in Java and Sulawesi is the position of the tomb. Near the pulpit of the Old Mosque lies the tomb of the architect Fung Man Te (possibly of Chinese descent), who assisted Datok Patimang in mosque construction. On the contrary, the tomb of Datok Patimang is located in the town of Malangke.

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