Headhunting in Kansas
“The Bugis are a high-spirited people: they will not bear ill-usage...They
are fond of adventures, emigration, and capable of undertaking the
most dangerous enterprises.”
Thomas Forrest, A Voyage from Calcutta to the Mergui Archipelago, 1792
Welcome to Kansas. That’s what the sign said, anyway. And underneath the cigarette packet on the poster, was its Indonesian slogan, ‘Langkah Pasti.’ Definite step.
Robyn and I had taken a definite step onto the Silk Air flight that got us here, and then we took another one, getting off in Ujung Pandang. It wasn’t called Ujung Pandang much before we got off the plane, and it wouldn’t be Ujung Pandang much after we left.
The island we landed on was a large orchid, suspended in the Southern Sea by one of its twisted elongated sepals, draped over the equator like a necklace. Its original Portuguese name, Celebes, had been displaced by the rich Lake Matano deposits that retitled it Sulawesi. Iron Island. But when they pitched up in 1511, the Portuguese found a thriving cosmopolitan entrepôt where Arabs and Chinese and Indians and Siamese and Malays and Javanese came to trade their metal hardware and textiles for gold, copper, pearls, camphor and spices- cloves, nutmeg, and mace, imported from the Spice Islands of Maluku. The Gowa and Tallo sultanates had become powerful enough to build a fortified sea wall along the coast, punctuated with a series of eleven fortresses.
The smell of clove Kretek cigarettes, and frying fish and chili sambal hit us, like the heat. If Toto had gotten off the plane, he would have been lunch before he cleared immigration. It definitely wasn’t Kansas.
More like the Latinesia archipelagos of Juan Fernández and Chiloé, Sulawesi had iconic sailing ships and terrible earthquakes. And stilt houses and volcanoes. Its history had come out of pirates and castaways, resulting in the treaty that shaped its evolution.
All rigging and tools, treasury, and every other articles without
exception, which have been taken from the Honorable Company’s ship
Malvish (the Whale) cast away at Salyer, and from the Honorable
Company’s Yacht or Barge, the Lioness, cast away at the island Don
Douange shall be restored to the Honorable Company. In that
restoration however the eight iron guns, from the Whale, said by the
above Maccasar power to have been paid for, shall remain in their
possesson, if it be proved that the sum of 4,000 Spanish Dollars has
been actually paid for them to the late Commisioner Gaamo, on belhalf
of the Honorable Company.
R. Blok, Appendix to Volume I. Treaty concluded in the year 1667, between
the Dutch Admiral Cornelis Speelman and the King of Maccassar. Beknopte
geschiedenis van het Makassaarsche Celebes en Onderhoorigheden, 1817
The Dutch had negotiated this treaty with some of the most feared marauders and freebooters in the Pacific. Stories of their legendary ruthlessness found their way back to the homes of European sailors. Stories of the Bugis of Bone. Stories of the Bogeymen. You thought it was just a story...but it’s real.
In 1605 their animistic Tolotang beliefs were converted to Islam and fifty years later, at the end of a long civil war, they were scattered, in a diaspora that took them as far as Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula. They traded of the coasts of New Guinea and Australia, where they exchanged medicinal bark, and the skins of birds of paradise and mother of pearl, for knives and salt from the Yolŋu people, and other Melanesian tribal groups. They would sail the trades, and return laden with trepand, dried sea cucumber, before returning to Makassar on the dry season offshore winds.
By the time Joseph Conrad arrived on the 204-ton steamer Vidar, in 1887, hauling coal and resin from Borneo, Makassar was ‘the prettiest and perhaps, cleanest looking of all the towns in the islands.’ In Lord Jim, he wrote of ‘a Bugis of Tondano only lately come to Patusan, and a relation of the man shot in the afternoon.’ He wasn’t as ebullient about the outskirts of town. ‘They were a numerous and an unclean crowd, living in ruined bamboo houses, surrounded by neglected compounds...’ Which is just about where Robyn and I came in.