When the British established Singapore as a trading port in the early 1800s, many Bugis traders came to Singapore and settled down. Their numbers are dwindling in Singapore, and the Bugis are now part of the Malay community. The Bugis were known as seafarers, having a fleet of ships to facilitate trades between Sulawesi and Singapore.
The present-day Buginese can be found in South Sulawesi, with the majority growing wet rice in the north and west of the province. However, South Sulawesi is only one fraction of the massive Sulawesi islands. Sulawesi has plenty of natural and man-made attractions, from diving spots and sinkholes to colonial forts and museums. Sulawesi cities are often unexplored and far from being touristy, possibly because of the lack of public transportation. Balik kampung to Sulawesi feels like living in the old time especially with the well-preserved traditional houses and colonial forts across the towns.
Sulawesi cities are often unexplored and far from being touristy, possibly because of the lack of public transportation. Balik kampung to Sulawesi feels like living in the old time especially with the well-preserved traditional houses and colonial forts across the towns.
Find some travel inspirations in Sulawesi while learning more about the Buginese culture!
Best time to visit
Visit Sulawesi between June/July and October to enjoy the dry weather.
How to get around
The public transport system in Sulawesi may be underwhelming. The best way is to rent a car and drive around the cities.
Bugis Cultural Attractions
1) Fort Rotterdam and La Galigo Museum, South Sulawesi
The Dutch-style fortress is synonymous with Makassar. The fort has been handed over to different administrations — the Makassar rulers, the Dutch, and the Japanese. The Makassar government extensively restored the fort in the 1970s and also built a museum within the compound – La Galigo Museum.
Credit: Theodore Salim
With almost 5000 artefacts from the different tribes in South Sulawesi, the museum is named after a world-class epic ‘Sureq Galigo’, also known as La Galigo. UNESCO acknowledges La Galigo as the longest epic in the world. It is written in Bugis language and script and tells about the origins of mankind based on South Sulawesi tradition. You can find the majority of the preserved manuscripts in La Galigo Museum.
Address: Jl. Ujung Pandang No.2, Bulo Gading, Makassar, Sulawesi Selatan 90221
Opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 8 am – 6 pm | Closed on Mondays
2) Phinisi Boat Building at Bulukumba, South Sulawesi
Phinisi is a traditional two-masted sailing ship built by the Bugis and is still used by the Bugis until today. In the past, Phinisi boats are used at war, for trades and for transport. It is very likely that the first few groups of Bugis reached Singapore on Phinisi boats — that explains the Phinisi boat statue you can find near Bugis MRT!
3) Museum Balla Lompoa, South Sulawesi
Previously the Palace of Gowa Kingdom, the museum architecture is typical of a Bugis house — ironwood houses with many windows built on stilts. Another feature of a Bugis house is the 2-metre-tall ladder to enter the house, which you can find here. You can learn the history of the Kingdom of Gowa and how the Bugis were involved in the infamous Makassar War against the Dutch colony.
Address: Jl. K.H. Wahid Hasyim No. 39, Gowa, Sungguminasa, Makassar, Kabupaten Gowa, Sulawesi Selatan 92111
Opening hours: Daily, 8 am – 4 pm
4) Somba Opu Fort, South Sulawesi
The fort was built in the 16th century as a spices trading centre, attracting merchants from Asia and Europe. Somba Opu fell after the intense war between the Dutch and Makassar Sultanate, and the Bugis seized some loots from the fort. Many bricks from Somba Opu Fort were stolen and used to build Dutch colonial buildings and the locals’ houses. Today, the fort has been restored and houses several museums and South Sulawesi traditional houses.
Location: Barombong, Gowa Regency, South Sulawesi 90224
Opening hours: Daily, 8 am – 7 pm
5) Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi
Credit: Theodore Salim
A funeral is a sacred celebration in Tana Toraja. The dead bodies are kept over the years as the family members save money to throw a funeral ceremony called tomate. The ceremony can last up to a week with ritual dances and buffalo fights going on throughout the week. Buffaloes and pigs are slaughtered to carry the soul of the deceased to the afterlife. The deceased is then buried in a small cave or a hollow tree or in a bamboo frame hanging from a cliff. The best souvenir to get here? Toraja Arabica coffee beans are popular in European countries and Japan!
6) Rammang Rammang, South Sulawesi
Located a couple of hours away from Makassar, Rammang Rammang is the world’s second largest karst valley. Once you are done admiring the vast mountainous landscape, hop onto the boat to explore the various villages and caves spread across the area.
Credit: Theodore Salim
7) Bunaken National Park, North Sulawesi
CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 / Andrey Samsonov
Before Raja Ampat, Tulamben or Amed rose into popularity, Bunaken was the favourite playground of many divers. The stunning coral reef (more than 390 coral species) and rich and rare marine life (more than 90 fish species) make Bunaken so special. Underwater photographers should visit the vertical coral reefs at Underwater Great Walls, one of the twenty diving spots available in the national park.
Manado also has other popular attractions such as the Ban Hin Kiong Temple, Soekarno Bridge and Christ Blessing. Head to the buzzing boulevard area to get a slice of food and culture of Manado.
8) Wakatobi National Park, Southeast Sulawesi
CC by 2.0 / q phia
Wakatobi easily tops the list of island getaways in Sulawesi. The pristine island is a well-kept secret of many divers and holidaymakers. Touted as one of the best diving spots in the world, Wakatobi is an acronym of islands in the compound: Wangi Wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia, and Binongko. The diving spots are well-loved by many macro underwater photographers, looking to snap some photos of the Pygmy Seahorse or Ghost Pipefish.
9) Benteng Keraton Buton, Southeast Sulawesi
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Marwan Mohamad
The limestone fort is circular in shape and was crowned as the largest fort in the world by Guinness Book Record in 2006. With 12 gates and 16 cannons, the fort was strategically located on a hilltop surrounded by a steep cliff. From the fort, you can get a bird’s eye view of Bau-Bau and the traffic of the ships along Buron Straits.
Address: Jalan Labuke, Melai, Murhum, Kota Bau-Bau, Sulawesi Tenggara 93713
Opening hours: Daily, 24 hours
10) Pusentasi Laut Donggala, Central Sulawesi
The term Pusentasi is adopted from the Kaili language – the native tribe of Central Sulawesi – which means the centre of the sea. The sinkhole is filled with seawater from Donggala Beach as there is a tunnel connecting the sinkhole to the sea, just a few hundred metres away. You can swim in crystal clear water or simply have a picnic by the hole.
There are also plenty of beaches, mountains and other attractions near Palu.
Location: Towale, Central Banawa, Donggala Regency, Sulawesi Tengah 94351
Opening hours: Daily, 24 hours
Buginese Cultural Treasures to Look Out For
The hand-woven silk sarong is the Buginese most popular souvenir to bring home. The sarong takes one month to complete and has bold and shiny colours. From a few patterns available, the waves are the most common, probably because maritime is the Bugis’ forte.
Often found in the graves in Tana Toraja. Tau-tau was previously crafted only for the wealthy but now has catered to different social statuses. However, you can still tell how wealthy the deceased is by paying attention to the accessories and clothes these statues wear.
The Bugis’ traditional weapon has many variations. Most designs come with elaborate covers or sleeves. Although there is no more war in Sulawesi, many farmers still carry badik around to protect them from animals.
The Bugis’ kecapi looks like a lute or harp, but is shaped like a boat and has only two strings. The musical instrument is often played on special occasions such as weddings or birthdays. Some kecapi(s) even follow the shape of the Phinisi boat.
Heritage of Flavour: Must-Try Food in Sulawesi
Sulawesi cuisine is diverse, but one thing for sure, they have a lot of seafood dishes. Sulawesi is rich in spices, and so is their cuisine.
Tinutuan / CC-BY-SA-3.0 / Midori
Cows’ offals and meat soup, eaten with ketupat. Best found in South Sulawesi, but can be found anywhere in Sulawesi.
Best in: Coto Nusantara, Makassar.
Porridge mixed with vegetables — pumpkin, spinach, water morning glory, cassava, corn, basil and gedi leaves.
Best in: Jl Wakeke, North Sulawesi.
Cassava and salted fish topped with desiccated coconut.
Best in: Southeast Sulawesi