Once known as Celebes, this orchid shaped island of Sulawesi lies south of the Philippines, and north of Java between Kalimantan (Borneo) and the Moluccas. Sulawesi consists of five elongated land masses that seem to stretch out from the centre. This odd contorted formation is due to the collision of ancient continents, say geologists.
Lying directly east of the Wallace Line that separates the continent of Asia from Australia, Sulawesi is separated from Kalimantan (Borneo) by a very deep trench, which comes from the south separating the island of Bali from Lombok, and continues northward all the way to the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
Sulawesi is a landscape of dramatic smoking volcanoes, ragged mountains and dramatic gorges, tropical rainforests, deep lakes, green rice terraces and white sandy beaches . Beaches slope down to deep seas with extraordinary coral formations that are home to colourful tropical marine life. The prehistoric coelacanth, once thought to be extinct, was found in the seas off Manado in North Sulawesi, not far from the famed Bunaken dive site.
The large island of Sulawesi is surrounded by clusters of islands where beautiful coral reefs and sea gardens are found , among which at Bunaken, Banggai, the Wakatobi Islands and Selayar. These offer spectacular dive opportunities (see brochure on diving)
Sulawesi has also some of the strangest animal life. This is the habitat of the dwarf buffaloes or the anoas, the babirusa or pig deer, the tailless monkeys or macaques, and the shy, tiny nocturnal tarsier with saucer-like eyes found in the Tangkoko National Park. Trekking through the breathtaking Toraja countryside or visits to the national parks are life time experiences.
South Sulawesi is the home of the Bugis-Makassar seafarers , famous for their ship building crafts that take them as far away as Australia and Madagascar. Sulawesi is also the home of the Toraja highland people who for centuries lived nestled in the central mountains, as well as the home of the fun-loving Minahasa community and the Sangir-Talaud people living south of the Philippines.
Today, Sulawesi comprises five provinces, these are the provinces of South Sulawesi, South-East Sulawesi, West Sulawesi, Central Sulawesi, Gorontalo and North Sulawesi.
The main cities are Makassar, capital of South Sulawesi and Manado, capital of North Sulawesi.
Both Makassar and Manado are international airports that receive wide bodied aircrafts with direct flights from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Located at the centre of the Indonesian archipelago, Makassar is the hub between Indonesia’s west and eastern islands
There are frequent domestic flights from Jakarta and Bali to Makassar and Manado. Domestic flights also serve all provincial capitals, or continue to Ambon and Papua. Makassar and Manado have top international star-rated hotels, as well as more moderately priced accommodation. There are also excellent convention facilities available in both cities.
The early history of the island of Sulawesi is predominantly the history of South Sulawesi, since chronicles found until today only tell about the southern part of the island.
These chronicles tell us that in the 15th century the kingdom of Luwu thrived here, its economy dependent on maritime trade with Java in nickel, iron ore and gold. Prior to this, however, archaeologists found evidence that there was a kingdom at Soppeng in the 13th century, through Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai stoneware and porcelain discovered here dating to this era. South Sulawesi then consisted of a number of kingdoms, where both women and men could rule.
In the 15th. century there came an important shift from the maritime trade to wet rice cultivation. In the 17th century, the area was ruled by the kingdom of Gowa who wrested control of the region . The ruler embraced Islam and spread the faith throughout the peninsula. Until today, the larger part of South Sulawesi are Muslims with the Toraja mainly Christians.
The 17th. century also saw the arrival of Europeans to the area: the Spaniards, Portuguese and the Dutch fought for hegemony over the spice trade among the islands, where the port of Makassar was an important maritime hub. In 1667, through the Treaty of Bungaya, the thriving city of Makassar fell to the Dutch East India Company, who took over Fort Rotterdam, but left local power to the kingdom of Bone.
From this time on many Sulawesi aristocrats refused to live under foreign yoke and fled Sulawesi to become rulers in Kutai, East Kalimantan, the Riau Islands, and even in Selangor and Johor in present day Malaysia.
In North Sulawesi, meanwhile, the Spaniards established a small fort at Manado in 1617 and attempted to spread the Catholic faith here. Local chiefs, however, invited the Dutch who succeeded to get the upper hand in North Sulawesi and the Moluccas, establishing a permanent base in Manado. The Dutch spread the Protestant religion here, and until today the majority of inhabitants in North Sulawesi are Protestants, and a smaller number are Catholics.
After Indonesia declared Independence in 1945, the Dutch established the East Indonesia State with capital in Makassar to compete with the Republic of Indonesia. But in 1950 this state was dissolved and East Indonesia pledged to be an inseparable part of the Republic of Indonesia. Rebel groups both in North and South Sulawesi continued to fight the Soekarno government, but were quelled in 1961.
North Sulawesi or Manado food is becoming very popular throughout Indonesia. With freshly caught fish or beef as one of its main menu. Grilled or fried fish is eaten with spicy but piquant tomato and chilli sauce.
Manado cuisine also has a healthy diet of vegetables to go with the meats. Being a mostly Christian region, pork is also served here. Although in order to cater to Muslim clients, pork is normally separated from other meats and fish.
Manado is also famous for its coconut cake, that has large slices of coconut deliciously baked into the cake.
In Makassar, fresh seafood of fish, crabs oysters, served with different sauces is the choice menu. These can be packed to be carried as gifts to families in Jakarta.
Through centuries of international trade, Sulawesi has become very cosmopolitan. Chinese, Arabs, Indians have made Sulawesi their home and are today very much integrated with the local population. Their customs, religions, rites and traditions becoming part of the culture and way of life on Sulawesi.
Main icon of Sulawesi is the Phinisi schooner, which in full sail, majestically plies the Indonesian islands. Until today, these sturdy phinisi boats are still built at Bulukumba, very much following the ancient customs. Phinisi boats are still very important to carry cargo to various remote islands. They can be seen at anchor at the Sunda Kelapa harbor in Jakarta and at the port in Makassar. Phinisis, motorized and fitted with comfortable sleeping quarters are also used as liveaboards for diving around the spectacular waters of the Moluccas, Papua, Sulawesi and Komodo.
Hand-woven silk sarongs, gold and silver jewelry from South Sulawesi, woven cloth from Toraja, and embroidery from North Sulawesi are some of the artistic handicraft made on this island.
In Literature, Sulawesi is known for the Bugis epic poem of Il Galigo, the longest literary work in the world, that is being revived today in grand performances.
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