Tuesday, January 19, 2010


The Bugis are the most numerous of the three major linguistic and ethnic groups of South Sulawesi, the southwestern province of Sulawesi, Indonesia's third largest island. Although many Bugis live in the large port cities of Makassar and Parepare, the majority are farmers who grow wet rice on the lowland plains to the north and west of the town of Maros. The name Bugis is an exonym which represents an older form of the name; (To) Ugi is the endonym.

The Bugis speak a distinct regional language in addition to Indonesian, called Basa Ugi, Bugis or Buginese. In reality, there are a several dialects, some of which are sufficiently different from others to be considered separate languages. Bugis belongs to the South Sulawesi language group; other members include Makasar, Toraja, Mandar and Enrekang, each being a series of dialects.

In historical European literature, the Bugis have a reputation for being fierce, war-like, and industrious. Honor, status, and rank are of great importance to the Bugis. They are a self-sufficient people who have a positive self-image and are very confident of their own abilities. As the most numerous group in the region (more than 5 million), they have had considerable influence on their neighbors.

The homeland

The homeland of the Bugis is the area around Lake Tempe and Lake Sidenreng in the Walennae Depression in the southwest peninsula. It was here that the ancestors of the present-day Bugis settled, probably in the mid- to late second millennium BC. The area is rich in fish and wildlife and the annual fluctuation of Lake Tempe (a reservoir lake for the Bila and Walennae rivers) allows speculative planting of wet rice, while the hills can be farmed by swidden or shifting cultivation, wet rice, gathering and hunting. Around AD 1200 the availability of prestigious imported goods including Chinese and Southeast Asian ceramics and Gujerati print-block textiles, coupled with newly discovered sources of iron ore in Luwu stimulated an agrarian revolution which expanded from the great lakes region into the lowland plains to the east, south and west of the Walennae depression. This led over the next 400 years to the development of the major kingdoms of South Sulawesi, and the social transformation of chiefly societies into hierarchical proto-states.

In Malay peninsular and Sumatra politic

The conclusion in 1669 of a protracted civil war led to a diaspora of Bugis and their entry into the politics of peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra. The Bugis played an important role in defeating Jambi and had a huge influence in Sultanate of Johor. Apart from the Malays, another influential faction in Johor at that time was the Minangkabau. Both the Bugis and the Minangkabau realized how the death of Sultan Mahmud II had provided them with the chance to exert power in Johor. Under the leadership of Daeng Parani, the descendants of two families settled on the Linggi and Selangor rivers and became the power behind the Johor throne, with the creation of the office of the Yang Dipertuan Muda (Yam Tuan Muda), or Bugis underking.


The Bugis came from the Celebes Islands in Indonesia. They were well known for a long time as maritime traders. In the mid-seventeenth century, the Bugis were spreading out from Celebes to set up trading centres throughout the region. Often they had to sail to distant lands and fight indigenous tribes. They rarely lost and acquired a reputation as fierce warriors.

The Dutch control of the Dutch East Indies and their blockades cut off the Bugis from their traditional spice trade routes from Celebes to Java. This forced them to migrate to other areas to continue trading. Their migration to what is today Malaysia, Singapore and Riau began around the 18th century or even earlier. At the beginning of the 19th century, the number of Bugis traders in the region increased. Their influence in Riau was strong. Among the Bugis traders were also members of the nobility like Engku Karaeng Talibak who married the daughter of Raja Ali Haji. According to Raja Ali Haji in his work, Tuhfat al-Nafis, the presence of Karaeng Talibak brought more Bugis traders to Riau.

The establishment of a free port in Singapore allowed the Bugis to expand their network in the archipelago. Sailing from Sumatra to north Australia, the Bugis ships brought cargoes of cotton cloth, gold dust, birds-of-paradise feathers, pepper, trepang (sea slugs), sandalwood, tortoiseshell, coffee and rice to Singapore. Most of these goods were very much in demand by the Chinese merchants in Singapore. The Bugis also traded in slaves.

James Cameron gave a description in 1865 of the various ships that would visit Singapore’s harbour. According to him, each year during October and November, the Bugis ships would come from Bali and the Celebes.

By the 1830s, the Bugis had established themselves in Singapore and formed the majority of the pioneer communities in the Kampung Gelam area. By 1881, the Census of Population reported 2,053 Bugis in Singapore. The Bugis gradually formed kampongs and settlements in places like Kampung Bugis (around the Kallang River), Kampung Soopoo, Jalan Pelatok and Jalan Pergam.


The Bugis community in Malaysia is a large one, numbering about 300,000 people. Some said higher at 728,465 Bugis in Malaysia, mainly in the state of Johore, and Selangor, Pahang. Johor has the most Bugis with 200,000, followed by Sabah with 50,000 who are mostly descendents of a famous leader Daeng Malik. Selangor and Malacca each has about 20,000 Bugis. Pahang also have number of Bugis.

The Bugis community in Malaysia can trace their roots to the five famous "Daeng" warriors -- Daeng Celak, Daeng Parani, Daeng Menambun, Daeng Marewah and Daeng Kemasi. Their descendents mostly settled in Johor, Kedah and Selangor. They also can be found in Malacca, Pahang.

In Johor, the Wajok Bugis clan is the biggest and they are mostly found in the Benut subdistrict in Pontian.

As far as culture is concerned, the Bugis have assimilated into the Malay community. The only difference is their Bugis language, which unfortunately is not widely spoken. More than 90 per cent of Malaysian Bugis do not speak the Bugis language. There is not much in Malaysian Bugis to trace our identity.

As a community, the Bugis have carved a name for themselves in the field of politics. Bugis people has played major role in Johor, Selangor and Pahang sultanates and politic. Some royal families have Bugis blood. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his father Tun Abdul Razak Hussein are among the illustrious Bugis sons. Both are descendents of Raja Gowa, who was a commander in the royal army of the olden day Bugis ruler, Sultan Salahuddin. Raja Gowa and his men fought the Dutch army in South Sulawesi.

Other famous Bugis personalities are Johor Menteri Besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman, former minister Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz and singer Datuk Siti Nurhaliza.

In Northern Australia

Long before European colonialists extended their influence into these waters, the Makasar, the Bajau, and the Bugis built elegant, ocean-going schooners in which they plied the trade routes. Intrepid and doughty, they travelled as far east as the Aru Islands, off New Guinea, where they traded in the skins of birds of paradise and medicinal masoya bark, and to northern Australia, where they exchanged shells, birds'-nests and mother-of-pearl for knives and salt with Aboriginal tribes. The products of the forest and sea that they brought back were avidly sought after in the markets and entrepots of Asia, where the Bugis bartered for opium, silk, cotton, firearms and gunpowder.

The Bugis sailors left their mark and culture on an area of the northern Australian coast which stretches over two thousand kilometers from the Kimberley to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Throughout these parts of northern Australia, there is much evidence of a significant Bugis presence. There are the remains of Bugis buildings on islands, Bugis words have become part of the Aboriginal languages and Bugis men and their craft feature in the indigenous art of the people of Arnhem Land. Each year, the Bugis sailors would sail down on the northwestern monsoon in their wooden pinisi. They would stay in Australian waters for several months to trade and take trepang (or dried sea cucumber) before returning to Makassar on the dry season off shore winds. These trading voyages continued until 1907.

Most present-day Bugis now earn their living as rice farmers, traders or fishermen. Women help with the agricultural cycle and work in the homes. Some women still weave the silk sarongs worn on festive occasions by men and women.


In the early 1600s, the Minangkabau ulema, Dato Ri Bandang, Dato Ri Tiro, and Dato Ri Patimang spread Islam in South Sulawesi. The Bugis converted from indigenous animistic practices and beliefs to Islam. A few west coast rulers converted to Christianity in the mid-sixteenth century, but failure by the Portuguese at Malacca to provide priests meant that this did not last. By 1611, all the Makasar and Bugis kingdoms had converted to Islam, though pockets of animists among the Bugis To Lotang at Amparita and the Makasar Konja in Bulukumba persist to this day.

Respected as traders and sailors, and feared occasionally as adventurers and pirates, the seafarers of southern Sulawesi looked outwards, seeking their fortunes throughout the Indonesian archipelago. While trade was the seafarers' main goal, the Makasar, Bajau, and Bugis often set up permanent settlements, either through conquest or diplomacy, and marrying into local societies. However, their reputation as seafarers dates to after 1670; most Bugis were, and are, rice farmers.

Related articles

1. Preserving Bugis cultural heritage(2010), by Ahmad Fairuz Othman, http://www1.nst.com.my/Current_News/JohorBuzz/Wednesday/MyJohor/20100112192421/Article/index_html

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