The becak pedicab that sounded the loudest bell, got to take us through the clay dust yellow brick road, through the breeze and the beggars, and what had been the gateway to the Spice Islands. The Bugis that didn’t live in pole houses, nine feet or more off the ground, with plank floors and walls, were in low concrete bungalows with corrugated tin roofs, radiating outward from the old Dutch fort.
The Quality Hotel we docked at, was still the Radisson, but wouldn’t be, after we left. I negotiated a fifty per cent discount off their rack rate, without breaking any more of a sweat. We ate Konro ribs, and Coto Makassar, a stew of beef brain and tongue and intestine, mixed with nuts and spices, in the order it left the cow, with delicious glutinous Burasa coconut rice, washed down with an Anker Bir. In our pisang epe dreams, of pressed bananas and durian drowned in palm sugar sauce, the durian won.
The next morning we took a pete-pete minibus to Fort Rotterdam. The original fortress had been constructed out of clay by the Gowa sultan, I manrigau Daeng Bonto Karaeng Lakiung Tumpa'risi 'kallonna, in the shape of a turtle, as a metophor for the ability to live on land and sea. The Dutch were having none of it and, in 1667, ran him out town, and took over the trade in copra, rattan, pearls, Bêche-de-mer, sandalwood, and a famous oil made from bado nuts, which no European gentleman could groom his hair without. John Byron’s grandson, the inestimable Lord, called it ‘thine incomparable oil, Macassar.’ The incomparability required the invention of the antimacassar, the small elaborately embroidered white crochet cloths used by the Victorians to cover the backs and arms of their chairs, to protect the upholstery from its oiliness.
The white stucco walls of the fort caught the early morning sun, and the steep pitched roofs covered in russet tiles were definitely Dutch. It could have been Amsterdam or Capetown or Curaçao, but for the refuse and cockfights outside, and the ‘Hello Misters’ from the gangs of little urchins seeking gula-gula sweets. And the use the Japanese made of it as a prisoner of war camp in the war.
Not that the Dutch had treated the Bugis much better, after the Japanese left. A counter-insurgency expert named Ray ‘The Turk’ Westerling took only three months to eliminate local support for Republican aspirations, by eliminating local support. The ‘Westerling Method’ consisted of surrounding villages during the night, separating the men at daybreak, and summarily executing those he suspected of working for the independent movement. He may have been responsible for tens of thousands of deaths. His actions were not surprising, given how he had previously dealt with a gang leader in North Sumatra.‘We planted a stake in the middle of the village and on it we impaled the head of Terakan. Beneath it we nailed a polite warning to the members of his band that if they persisted in their evildoing, their heads would join his.’
Robyn and I walked past the sea wall, followed by young boys who hadn’t yet decided if they want to antagonize us, or try for candy.
“Hello, Misters!” They shouted.
“Apa Kareba?” I asked. How are you.
“Kareba melo!” They said. And we were friends.
The Paotere Harbour seemed deserted at first, but then we saw movement on the schooners, and a row of women sitting along the pier. Their caftans, white in the sun, and their faces, white with rice powder, were contrasted by the scarlet of their lips, stained from betel nut. They appeared like ghostly vampires, in a crude Kabuki play. One planted a splotch of orange saliva behind us as we passed. I interpreted it as an expression of territoriality. We stopped in front of a magnificent sleek ketch rig named Kota Bersetia. Devoted City. I’d seen these Bugis pinisi ships before, at the Ujang wharf in Surabaya. This one was two hundred tons, if she was an ounce, and the seven sails on her eighty-foot twin masts plied the Makassar Strait, one last majestic member of the world’s last commercial sailing fleet.
Just after noon, we boarded a Litha bus to Sengkang, the epicenter of Bugi origins and culture. It hugged the coast for a few miles, through open countryside of grazing land and irrigated rice fields. A jagged range of limestone mountains, ten thousand feet high, rose to the east, and we turned towards them into the highlands, crossing and recrossing the Sadang River, until we left it behind, a brown line in the gorge below. It began to rain, swelling the streams that flowed into the light-shimmering rice terraces below. A man with his sarong flung over his right shoulder, smoking his Kansas in the middle of nowhere, waved as we passed.