Bugis Religion

The Bugis or Buginese are one of the three major cultures of South Sulawesi (Sulawesi is also called Celebes). The others are the Makassarese and the Torajan. Bugis call themselves Ugi' or ToUgi' and speak a Western Austronesian language. The Bugis are considered one of the most devout Muslim groups in Indonesia, though they maintain many pre-Islamic elements in their religion.

The sacred epic La galigo gives an incomplete picture of pre-Islamic Bugis religion. A small group of non-Muslim Bugis still believe La galigo to be sacred. La galigo is an account of creation, a collection of princely rituals, and a manual of princely conduct. The princely rituals are performed by bissu, transvestite priests in charge of the royal regalia. Other rituals of daily life are carried out by sanro, popular practitioners, for new houses and boats, rites of passage, first-use rites, anniversaries, phases of the rice cycle, and at times of war, epidemic, and crop failure.

Allah is called Puang Allataala or Dewata Seuwae. Besides Allah, Bugis believe there are many other spiritual beings it is necessary to pay homage to if you wish them to intercede between humans and the remote supreme being. One of these spititual beings is Sawerigading, who is the Bugis national hero described in La galigo. However, there seems to have been a cult of Sawerigading that was more important to the bissu than the laity. Another cult of the bissu was for Dewata Mattanru' Kati, "the god with golden horns", also from La galigo.

There is a general cult among all Bugis to Sangiang Serri, the rice goddess, who in La galigo was the first child born on earth to Batara Guru, son of Datu Patoto, a god at the summit of Heaven according to La galigo. Sangiang Serri died after seven days and was buried. Then her body was transformed into the rice plant.

Taddampali is an aquatic god who may be equated with La Punna Liung, the messenger of the Abyss in La galigo. Also important are tomanurung, descended beings, and totenrita, spiritual or invisible beings. The totenrita intercede between humans and the divine and include house and boat spirit guardians and local spirits that live in trees, large stones, and springs.

The paddengngeng, hunters, are dangerous invisible horsemen who lasso one's soul, causing illness and death. The kingdom of the paddengngeng is told of in oral traditions and is like the Land of the Dead in La galigo. This is a far island in the western seas. First the dead have to wait in another land until the funerary ritual is over and to be punished if they are sinners. Then a ritual bath is taken, an entrance fee paid to the keeper of the heartland and they cross a golden bridge to the isle of the dead. In this inner Land of the Dead all is the opposite of life among the living.

The creation myth of the Bugis has become mixed with Islamic mysticism, but we can gain an outline of this with La galigo as the main source.

From a supreme deity, To Papunna, "the owner of everything," emanated a male and a female, who gave birth to the main gods of the upper world and the underworld. Different versions of the myth number these as seven, fourteen, or nineteen. Two couples of gods are most important, one at the depths of the Abyss, the male being Guru ri Selle, and one at the summit of Heaven, the male being Datu Patoto, "the prince who fixes destinies." Datu Patoto was the highest god. The eldest son of Datu Patoto was Batara Guru and he was sent with Guru ri Selle's daughter to Luwu', the Middle World, to found the first human settlement. However, mankind does not descend from them but from their servants and the servants of other divine rulers.

In La galigo we read of the lives of six generations of earthly descendents of the first divine rulers. The most important figure is Sawerigading, a grandson of Batara Guru, and he is regarded as the Bugis cultural hero. After the sixth generation, all princes of divine origin returned to Heaven or the Abyss except for the princely couple in Luwu', from whom all Bugis nobility are descended or from other divine princes sent from Heaven or the Abyss.

Some contact with Indian religions was followed by a long period of trade with Muslims, mainly Malay, who settled in the trading harbours. The first European contacts came during the spice trade. South Sulawesi then had many small kingdoms ruled by three ruling groups, the Luwu', Gowa or Makassar, and Bone. There was rivalry between the Europeans and in the early 1600's the Portuguese were defeated by the Dutch. The Bugis fought and rebelled against the Dutch for more than two centuries until the early twentieth century and then there was fierce resistance after the Second World War to Dutch re-occupation.

There were some attempts by the Bugis in the middle of the sixteenth century to adopt Christianity as introduced by the Portuguese and the Dutch, but these did not succeed. Between 1605 and 1610 the Bugis officially became Muslims under the influence of the neighbouring kingdom of Goa, which is where Islam first entered South Sulawesi.

Islamicisation has meant that most pre-Islamic traditions of the Bugis religion have gone. Muslim funerals have replaced traditional ones. The bissu are rapidly declining and their activity is increasingly restricted. However, the importance of Bugis sacred places still exists and an ancestor cult conduct pilgrimages to sacred non-Islamic graves. This cult also make offerings to family ancestors in a special place in the house. And on ceremonial occasions the La galigo epic is recited.

Most Bugis lordships and kingdoms claim to have been founded by a divine couple. These divine ancestors are said to have brought swords, banners, ploughs, and other objects with them and these are kept today as royal regalia.

The rituals of both bissu and sanro include sacrifices of buffalo, goats, or chickens, as well as offerings of sticky rice. The rice is presented usually in four colours, though sometimes in two, seven, or eight colours, which have magic symbolism as with the Batak.

Many Bugis have in their houses wooden tabernacles or miniature beds where the tomanurung, descended beings, can come during ceremonies.

There are between three and four million Bugis, the great majority living in South Sulawesi. There are also important Bugis setttlements, mainly on the coast, throughout Indonesia including Kalimantan, Flores, Malaku, and Irian Jaya.

Headquarters/Main Centre
Ujung Pandang (now Makassar), South Sulawesi, Indonesia.    

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