Traditional Phinisi Schooner Builders in Bulukumba

For centuries, the Bugis people have sailed from South Sulawesi across the shallow seas of the Indonesian archipelago. They would sail east and west on the monsoons, regularly trading as far as Northern Australia in their two masted ships, known as phinisi (often also spelled pinisi.) The great age of sail, which ended in the West in the early twentieth century, never quite ended in Indonesia. The Bugis have continued to build their phinisi on the beaches of Sulawesi and continue to sail the islands to this day. In addition to serving as transport and traders, the phinisi are also increasingly used as tour, cruise and dive boats. Some are fitted out as yachts.

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Located at the most southern tip of South Sulawesi’s peninsula, 153 kilometers south of Makassar, lies the district of Bulukumba , holding hidden marvels in its pristine beaches, underwater gardens, and   unique maritime culture. The district is also known as Butta Panrita Lopi or ‘the land of the phinisi schooners” for its long tradition in building these majestic crafts, the pride of the Bugis people.

According to the ancient I La Galigo manuscript, phinisi schooners have been built since the 14th century. These  schooners are mostly crafted  in the area called Tanah Beru, located about 23 kilometers from the capital of Bulukumba, or 176 kilometers from Makassar.

Along the shores of Tanah Beru, you will see tens of dry-docks where phinisi schooners are in various stages of construction. Here the skillful hands of the Bugis with amazing precision, carefully craft the Phinisi that has become the icon of Indonesian seafaring. The Phinisi is built using traditional equipment following exact prescribed traditional techniques that have been passed down from generation to generation. Its construction does not only involve strength and technique but also – as the locals believe – supernatural powers, for which every stage requires strictly adhered rituals and ceremonies.

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The word “Bulukumba” is believed to be derived from the Bugis phrase “Bulu’ku Mupa”, which loosely translated means “still my mountain”. The name appeared in the 17th century, when a war broke out between two kingdoms of South Sulawesi, namely the kingdoms of Gowa and Bone.  At the time, the ridge of Mount Lompobattang ,  known as “Bengkeng Buki”, –  which means “foot of the hill”, –   was claimed by The Gowa Kingdom.  The Bone Kingdom, however, refuted the claim and defended the area with all they had.  From this battle came the passionate outcry: ”bulu’ku mupa!” or “still my mountain”. Gradually its pronunciation shifted to cover the entire area of  Bulukumba.

Bulukumba is also the home of a special ethnic group called the Kajang. For centuries they inhabited the interior area of the Kajang regency in an area called Tana Toa, which they regard as having been bestowed to them by their ancestors. Until this day, the Kajang still practice age -old traditions and ways of life that teach men to maintain perfect harmony with nature. Living in simplicity, none of the houses have any furniture, electricity, and other modern convenience.The Kajang also wear black as their daily attire.  For to the people of Kajang, modernity deviates from customary rules and ancestral teachings.

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Further south, at the most southern tip of the district, about 200 kilometers from Makassar, the secluded white sandy beach, crystal clear calm waters and indulging breeze await at the Tanjung Bira Beach. Its location alone has made it a special place, where the sun rises and sets magnificently along a straight line.  Here the luxurious Amatoa Resort provides magnificent views on the vast spreading white sand,  making this a perfect spot for sunbathing, snorkeling and diving.

Far on the horizon, the scenic view of the island of Selayar adds to the splendor of the beach. While, not too far from shore, the Liukang and Kambing or Goat Islands welcome visitors to step in their pristine environment. There are several boats along the coast that are more than willing to take you to the islands. The seas off Tanjung Bira and around Selayar are also ideal for diving. Around Bira are fringing reefs, but most outstanding by far are the sheer walls at Kambing island, where a stark slab of rock rises out of the ocean between Bira and Selayar. Here the coral cover and schools of fish offer fantastic underwater scenes.

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Watching the magnificent phinisi schooners being built, enjoying the white beaches, and the splendors below the sea, Bulukumba is  truly worth a visit as you venture into the wonders of South Sulawesi.

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