Ancient Kingdom Lives On; The small island of Pulau Makasar near Buton retains its traditions.

(Versi edit telah diterbitkan di Weekender Magazine, November 2010)

Oleh : R. Heru Hendarto

The armada of traditional wooden boats sailed close to shore, bearing a unique group of passengers. They wore dark-colored, striped cloth, combined with traditional sarong and headbands. The mystical setting, seemingly a throwback to another time, was intensified by their chanting, as they then disappeared along with the faint sound of a drum in the distance.

That is the annual Tuturangiana Andala ritual, held to express gratitude to God by the people of Pulau Makasar, near the city of Bau-Bau in Southeast Sulawesi. A short 15-minute boat ride from Bau-Bau, the 104-km2 island has a long and intricate history, beautiful scenery and a gentle pace of life.

Although their spelling of the island’s name is missing one “s” compared the South Sulawesi capital and their people, the people of Pulau Makasar’s roots are closed tied to that region’s 17th century Gowa kingdom. Their story also is closely related to the great kingdom of Buton, previously known as Wolio. It was one of the three major Islamic kingdoms in the Indonesian archipelago in the early 16th century. With Samudera Pasai in the west (before it was overthrown by the Portuguese) and Ternate-Tidore, the hub for spice and particularly nutmeg trading, in the east, Wolio commanded its own central strategic position.

Its heyday began in 1542 when it was transformed into an Islamic kingdom under the reign of first sultan, Murhum Kaimuddin Khalifatul Khamis. But in 1666, Gowa sent its army to attack Buton because it was accused of harboring Aru Palakka, an insurgent from Gowa. With the assistance of the Dutch, Karaeng Bonto Marannu of Buton was able to defeat the Gowa invaders, and 5,500 men were interned at Liwuto island. Over time, because of its history, it became known as Pulau Makasar.But these descendants of Gowa have assimilated well with the traditions and socio-cultural values of Buton. Pulau Makasar is among the areas in Bau-Bau known for holding to tradition and observing ancient rituals. Mardan Ali, the 7th sultan of Buton, is buried on Pulau Makasar.

The island is not solely about its rich history. It also has great natural beauty. There are gorgeous white-sand beaches; in the north, Baana Bungi, known for being shaped like the mouth of a crocodile. Baana Bungi’s white sands are rough in appearance but so soft that a person will sink up to their ankle when stepping on it. In the 1970s, the beach was known as a pristine paradise, but excavation of its sand for building materials has led to the decimation of its mangroves and coral reef. It’s also a place where customary ways of life continue very much unchanged. Most residents continue to dwell in the traditional Buton wooden house called the Banua Wolio. There are few motorbikes, let alone cars, and visitors can enjoy the quiet atmosphere of the island’s lanes. People are pleasant, welcoming strangers with wide smiles.

At one of the traditional houses, a middle-aged woman wove traditional cloth on her porch, a rhythmic sound created by the wooden loom known as the Tapua moving to and fro. Ibu Suarni has been a weaver for the past 10 years, continuing the tradition of her mother. With locally made cotton strings, a rainbow of red, pink, white and blue, she makes the unique Buton pattern of colo makbahu. Every day she works for four hours in her spare time, finishing one of the 400 by 67 cm cloths in less than a week. She can sell them for up to Rp 150,000 to help her family.

Cloth continues to play a significant role in social identity and stratification in Buton society, and are worn at traditional ceremonies. A cloth pattern worn by a Buton woman reveals her marital society and her position in society. Kumbaea pattern dominated by silver colour for instance, only allowed to wear for woman of King’s descendant whom has Wa Ode title as prefix before their names.

Hundreds of people gathered at the jetty of Liwuto, which was draped with colorful banners in every corner. It was for the racing of koli-koli traditional boats were held, with old and young, men and women, big and small, all taking part in the hilarious antics. The koli-koli is a small wooden handmade boat crafted from one large piece of timber. They are often used by local people of Pulau Makasar and surrounding areas for fishing in the shallow water or transportation. Because of their size, they are better suited for one occupant, although two can still fit inside, as long as the couple maintains good balance. If not, the boat is sure to capsize, which provides the humor at the race.

The boat riders showed tremendous speed and skill over the 1-kilometer course, with most of them finishing in only 20 minutes. No advantage taken by small size boat to bigger size as the speed depends on the rowing power and the shape of hull. The sharper it is, the faster it should be. Pulau Makasar also is the host of an annual dragon boat competition, which probably traces its origins back to the legend of Wa Kaa Kaa, a princess with strong ties to the Chinese emperor who established Wolio. Contemporary boat still adopts its dragon head ornament attached to the Bulbous bow. But they appeared more cheerful by applying colourful body paint. A drum sounds to start the race, and 20 men row at full power, their speed lifting the bow of the vessel out of the water. The winners receive small cash prizes, but victory is worth much more to them, shown by the pride on their faces. The peak of festival is the closing ceremony and feast on the beach. Locals bring traditional food to be shared for free, such as barbecued fish. Everybody is welcome to take part in the Pakande-kandea (great dishes) gathering.



Getting There :

BauBau can be reached less than hour from Makassar by using Express Air (everyday departs at 12.10 WITA) or Lion Air (every day departs at 13.30 WITA) with less than IDR 500,000 fare. There is also flight by Express Air served route from Kendari three days a week (Rp 400,000). Another option is to take express boat from Kendari using (MV Sagori or MV Superjet) twice a day departed at 07.30 and 12.30 (Rp 122,000 economic and 225,000 for VIP class).

Pulau Makassar can be reached by using jarangka (Rp 8,000 fare) from Kamali beach near BauBau downtown. Inside the island, the only option is walking on foot or hiring ojek (motorcycle taxi).

Where to Stay :

Hotel Rajawali, Jalan Sultan Hasanuddin No. 69 (0402-2823633) is a quiet nice hotel (started from Rp 250,000) located nearby BauBau harbor. Another option is Hotel Mira, Jalan Mawar No.7 (0402-2822911). There are also a lot of budget hotels around Kamali beach near downtown.


What To Do :

In August each year, there is Festival Pulau Makasar which involving many traditional activities such as koli-koli and dragon boat race. A lot of traditional rituals, such as Mata’a, Pakande-kandea and Tuturangiana Andala also took places around the island. Frequently in the next month, there is Festival Keraton which held inside the fortress of Keraton Wolio.

Besides historical and cultural tourism sites, BauBau also blessed by a lot of beautiful waterfalls and exotic beaches. Island hopping is also possible as Muna, Siompu and Kabaena islands only less than two hours away. BauBau is also a good start as entrance to Wanci, the gate of Wakatobi.

This city is also well known as the center of cashew nut, available in a competitive price (started from Rp 30,000/kg) compared to others. Along Kamali beach, there are some local kiosk and art shop sell local souvenirs.

Tips :

BauBau is a small but crowded city. The city is quiet safe, Banks and ATMs are available everywhere so no need for excessive cash. Ojek is common transportation in the city with fair rate for Rp 3,000 for city trip. Just stand in the street and a lot of ojek will come to you offering their services. For long distance ride i.e to Keraton or Nirwana beach, ask for negotiable prices.

If you visited BauBau by plane, it is better to choose a sea line to Kendari on the way back. The sea and island view along BauBau-Kendari trip is very nice. Take a larger express boat and stay over the deck and enjoy the scenery around.



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