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ETHNONYMS: Macassarese, Makassaren, Makassarese, Mangkasaren


Identification. The Makassar live in the southern corner of the southwestern peninsula of Sulawesi (formerly the Celebes), Indonesia. Along with the Bugis, with whom they share many cultural features, they have been famous for centuries as seafaring traders and agents of Islam in the eastern part of the Malay Archipelago. Their name for themselves is "Tu Mangkasara'," meaning "people who behave frankly."

Location. Makassar territory is roughly between 5° and 7° S, and 119°20 and 120°30 E, including the island of Salayar. The Makassar inhabit the volcanic mountainous area around Mount Bawakaraeng/Lompobattang, which is traversed by a number of rivers, as well as the coastal plains, where most settlements are inhabited by a mixed Bugis-Makassar population. Except for the areas east of the volcano massif, where rainfalls are more evenly distributed over the year, the rainy season lasts from October to April.

Demography. The Makassar number about 1.8 million, with an average population density of some 245 persons per square kilometer (excluding the provincial capital Ujung Pandang). The rate of population increase in the rural areas is low today, which results from an increasing migration to the towns as well as from national birth-control projects. Makassar constitute some 72 percent of the population of Ujung Pandang (formerly Makassar), the remainder being composed of ethnic groups from all over Indonesia, including a large number of Chinese.

Linguistic Affiliation. Makassar belongs to the West Indonesian Subgroup of the Austronesian Language Family, and is most closely related to Bugis, Mandar, and several Toraja languages. It is subdivided into five mutually intelligible dialects (Lakiung, Bantaeng, Turatea, Selayar, and Konjo, the latter being classified as a separate language by some linguists), of which the "Standard Makassar," the Lakiung dialect, spoken in the western regions, is most widely used (74 percent). There are two speech levels, the higher of which is more complex in regard to morphology and lexicon. Today, few people are capable of using the high variety. The Makassar have a syllabic script comprised of nineteen characters and four additional vowel signs, which was created in the sixteenth century on the basis of Sanskrit writing and is still used, mainly by older people.

History and Cultural Relations

According to written traditions, there were a number of minor Makassar principalities in the fourteenth century. A divine princess (tumanurung ) is said to have descended from heaven around the year 1400. She is believed to have founded the kingdom of Gowa, which was based upon a confederation of the former minor principalities. Although this and many similar myths from South Sulawesi clearly reveal an Indian influence, the impact of Hinduism on Makassar culture was comparatively slight. Among several rival Makassar kingdoms, Gowa became dominant in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, exercising political and economic control over the eastern part of the archipelago. Gowa's political structure was strictly hierarchical, with the king presiding over councils of subordinate rulers, ministers, and various other functionaries. Political relations with neighboring kingdoms, including those of the Bugis, were extended through intermarriage among the ruling noble families. In 1669 the Dutch captured the capital of Gowa, but rebellions and piracy continued until 1906, when the colonial troops conquered the interior regions and killed the king of Gowa. Under colonial rule as well as after Indonesia gained independence (1949), nobles were incorporated into the administrative hierarchy. Today many Makassar nobles, who are still regarded by the local population as people of a higher order, occupy prominent governmental positions in the rural regions. In the course of history the Makassar have established colonies along many coasts all over Indonesia. Principal cultural changes were brought about by the spread of Islam (which arrived on the peninsula in 1605), as well as by the growth of the town of Ujung Pandang (during the last decades of our century), where a Western-oriented life-style is now becoming dominant.


Whereas settlements in the coastal plains usually consist of several hundred houses, villages in the interior regions are much smaller, containing from 10 to 150 houses. In some cases, the houses are clustered around sacred places; in others, they are built along both sides of a path, with the front gables oriented toward the sacred peaks of Mount Bawakaraeng/Lompobattang. Traditionally, villages were located amid the rice fields and gardens, with an average distance of some 3 kilometers from one settlement to another. In the course of current resettlement projects, many highland villages are being moved to places that are accessible by asphalt roads. In these cases, traditional settlement patterns cannot be maintained. The house is raised on wooden (formerly bamboo) piles. It is rectangular in shape and provided with a gable roof. Partitions of the gable formerly indicated the social status to which the owner belonged. No part of the house is decorated by engravings or anything similar. The interior is divided into a main room, kitchen, and (mostly only one) sleeping quarter. While formerly up to twenty people resided in a single house, nowadays most houses are inhabited by an average of five persons. Bamboo, as the traditional material for house building, has been largely replaced by wood and corrugated iron, but even in the rural locations an increasing number of houses are built of bricks. This hampers mobility, which was characteristic of the traditional local settlement pattern, since old-style houses could be moved from one place to another within a few hours.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. While fishing is the basis of the economy along the coasts, the cultivation of rice, which is the staple food, dominates in the interior regions. Wet-rice agriculture is to be found both in the lowlands and in the mountainous regions. In the latter, dry rice, maize, and cassava are also staple crops. Other important crops are coconuts, coffee, bananas, cloves, and many kinds of fruit and vegetable. Agriculture is hardly mechanized, especially in the highlands. Only part of the wet-rice fields are mechanically irrigated, and both plowing and harvesting are done in a traditional fashion. In spite of governmental efforts to increase the production of rice (by introducing new varieties of rice, fertilizers, and pesticides), rice agriculture in the backcountry is predominantly self-sufficient. Coffee is the only product that is considered a cash crop by the peasants in these areas. Domestic animals include water buffalo and cattle (both used to draw the plow), goats, chickens, and dogs. Except for dogs, all domestic animals are eaten, but only on ritual occasions. The ordinary daily diet consists of rice, maize, cassava, vegetables, and dried fish, the latter being available in the markets.

Industrial Arts. The traditional art of weaving is no longer practiced in most regions. House building, basketry, and the production of mats are commonly considered professional activities. Blacksmiths are full-time specialists in most villages, but in general occupy very low social positions. In several places along the coast, traditional boat building has survived despite the recent emergence of motorboats.

Trade. The Makassar have for centuries been renowned for their skill as traders; seafaring trade is still very important in coastal locations. Markets, spread all over the country, are dominated in most cases by professional traders. For the majority of the population, products such as tobacco, salt, dried fish, and clothes can only be obtained in the market.

Division of Labor. In general, the division of labor is strict because of the rigid separation of the sexes in everyday life. According to tradition, home tasks are assigned exclusively to women, and female traders are found in every market. In agriculture, men do the hard work, such as plowing and carrying rice bundles after harvest, and in some regions harvest the rice.

Land Tenure. Rice fields and gardens that are part of the traditional village territory are individually owned by either men or women. In addition, everyone has the theoretical opportunity to rent or purchase untilled land, which formerly belonged to the nobility, and nowadays is governmental property. Since such land is very expensive to rent or purchase, these modes of extending control over resources are rarely practiced. In some regions most of the land is controlled by rich (mostly noble) patrons, but sharecropping among relatives is practiced everywhere.


Kin Groups and Descent. Descent is bilateral. The inhabitants of a village or a cluster of neighboring villages consider themselves to belong to a single localized kin group, which according to tradition is endogamous. In practice, however, intermarriage between many villages is the rule, resulting in complex, widespread kin networks. Hence it is really impossible to establish any boundaries between overlapping kin groups. The proximity or distance of kin relations is defined in terms of an individual's personal kindred (pammanakang ), which encompasses his or her consanguineal relatives as well as the latters' spouses. Although the definition of a person's kindred is very important for marriage strategy (since marriage taboos are formulated with respect to the pammanakang), the evaluation of social rank depends largely on membership in bilateral descent groups (ramages). The members of any such ramage trace their descent to a real or fictive ancestor through either father or mother. Like the village kin groups, ramages are not localized, but rather comprise countless numbers of individuals who are dispersed all over the country. Distinct terms are only applied to those ramages in which membership entitles one to succession to traditional political offices. Since all ramages are agamous, most individuals are members of two or more descent groups, which in addition are ordered hierarchically. Though descent is traced equally through males and females, patrilateral kin ties are emphasized in regard to succession to an office. On the other hand, there is a tendency to focus on matrilateral relations for the organization of rituals relating to the founding ancestors of a ramage.

Kinship Terminology. A terminology of the Eskimo type is used. Terminological differentiation of gender is confined to the terms for father, mother, husband, and wife, while in all other cases a "female" or "male" is added to the respective term of reference. Aside from the terms for "younger sibling" and "elder sibling," the age of relatives is sometimes indicated by adding a "young" or "old" to the term of reference. Teknonymy is common, though not the rule.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. In the rural locations, marriage is still arranged exclusively by the parents and/or close relatives, since according to tradition communication between unmarried young people of different sexes is strictly prohibited. Normatively, social strata are endogamous, and the groom's social rank must be higher than or at least equal to the bride's. Marriage between second cousins is preferred among the commoners, while only nobles are allowed to marry a first cousin. The bride-price is divided into "spending money" (balanja ), which is used by the bride's family to cover the costs of the wedding feast, and a "rank-price" (sunrang ), which is given to the bride. Both the balanja and the sunrang reflect the bride's social rank. A weak economic position of the groom's family or normative obstacles to marriage often result in elopement. There is no dominant pattern of postmarital residence. Polygyny is confined to wealthy people, because a separate household must be provided for each wife. Traditionally, divorce could be initiated only by the husband, and was fairly rare. By way of contrast, divorce is now more common, and follows Islamic law.

Domestic Unit. An average household is comprised of a nuclear family as well as close relatives who do not possess a house, in many cases including spouses of adult children. A household is considered a unit consisting of people living and consuming together; the factor of kinship is of secondary importance in this respect.

Inheritance. Sons and daughters inherit equally. If the deceased person has no children, his or her property is given to other consanguineal relatives. In case of divorce, children receive the house and the rank-price once given to the mother.

Socialization. Children are raised by both parents, elder siblings, and other relatives or household members. All adults, elder siblings, and cousins must be respected, and are addressed by honorific terms. Girls over the age of 7 traditionally were forbidden to communicate with male individualsexcept for their closest relativesuntil they got married. While mobility and bravery are considered important features of male behavior, girls are supposed to occupy balancing positions within the social group. Physical punishment is common.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The most important aspect of social organization is the subtle differentiation of social rank. Makassar society is divided into nobility, commoners, and (formerly) slaves. Each of these strata is internally differentiated, with every individual ranked on a continuous social scale. A person's rank is primarily determined by that of his or her ascendants. Since descent is traced bilaterally, the definition of a person's rank depends on the different levels of rank that have been transmitted through either male or female individuals in the ramages of which he or she is a member. Marriage provides the main means for upward mobility, but low descent rank may also be compensated for by bravery, religious or secret knowledge, education, wealth, polite behavior, and (recently) occupation. Hence the boundaries between the main strata and between the various substrata are not as fixed as seems to be indicated by the comparatively few levels of marriage rank-price. Both ramages and village kin groups constitute social units for the worship of ancestors and sacred heirlooms. Owing to the principles of bilateral descent, the composition of these worship communities is flexible.

Political Organization. Traditionally, a kingdom was comprised of several principalities, each of which in turn consisted of a number of village territories. On each level the political structure was based on a myth, according to which leadership originated from a divine being (the tumanurung) who, before ascending back to heaven, left an object on earth that was henceforth believed to contain a divine spirit. Such sacred heirlooms (kalompoang ) legitimated the political authority of noble rulers (on the levels of kingdoms and principalities) as well as that of commoner village rulers. Both noble and commoner rulers were assisted by various functionaries organized in councils. Nowadays the traditional system has been adapted to the pan-Indonesian administrative structure. In most regions, Makassar nobles hold prominent offices on the administrative levels of kabupaten, kecamatan, and desa, while village rulers were either installed as, or supplanted by, formal village heads. However, kalompoang and informal traditional leaders are still held in high esteem.

Social Control. The most significant means of maintaining social control is the concept of siri' (shame, honor, self-respect). Anyone seriously offending another person's siri' runs the risk of being killed, without any external authority being involved in the affair. Only in some cases, such as conflict over matters of land tenure or other kinds of property, are leaders requested to settle disputes. In precolonial times, the violation of marriage taboos was punished by drowning.

Conflict. Makassar claim to be looking for, rather than avoiding, conflict. Conflict arises quickly over matters of siri', which in particular relates to guarding one's own social rank and esteem, as well as that of one's female relatives. Because the local government and police now exercise control over rural communities, however, there is an increasing tendency to settle disputes peacefully.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Islam is the dominant religion, and in the urban context various Muslim brotherhoods are very influential. On the other hand, especially in the backcountry, religious beliefs and rituals are still based largely on traditional concepts. In the traditional religion a number of deities, who are believed to dwell on the peak of the sacred mountain, occupy prominent positions. Soil, plants, and animals are considered the property of supernatural beings, which must be presented with regular offerings. In addition, the souls of the ancestors are believed to exert direct influence on the everyday life of their descendants. Owing to the increasing influence of Islam, syncretistic beliefs now prevail even in remote locations.

Religious Practitioners. In most villages, traditional priests (sanro or pinati ) still perform various rituals, while Islamic functionaries (imang ) play significant roles in official religious life. In rural locations, the position of imang is for the most part an honorary office. The imang is called upon to perform marriages, circumcisions, and death rituals, all of which imply elements from both traditional religion and Islam. Divorces in accordance with Islamic law are granted by imangs holding official positions in the local administration.

Ceremonies. Agricultural rituals are still performed in accordance with tradition, while all rites of passage nowadays include Islamic elements. Most significant are rituals centering on sacred heirlooms, which in many cases involve the making or redemption of personal vows. In addition, all periodic Islamic feasts are celebrated.

Arts. Arts play a minor role among the Makassar, and material culture is characterized by extreme plainness. There are a few dances, which now have acquired the status of mere folklore. Most musical instruments that are today considered traditional are of Indian or Arabic origin (boat-lutes, flutes, clarinets, rebab, and gambus ). Elements of old Makassar music are now incorporated into Western-style popular music. Poetry and the recitation of ancient heroic legends are valued highly, although many stylistic peculiarities of the high variety of the Makassar language are liable to vanish soon.

Medicine. In case of illness, seers are commonly consulted. Illness is often attributed to a former vow that has not been redeemed yet, to sorcery and witchcraft, or to malevolent ancestor souls. Since the majority of the population cannot afford consulting a trained physician, traditional healers are still very important even in the urban context.

Death and Afterlife. In the course of the funerary rituals, the soul of the deceased is incorporated into the realm of the supernatural. Whether a soul will be benevolent or malevolent depends mainly on its former owner's behavior during life. Formerly, the community of ancestor souls was considered an integral part of the social group of the living; more recently, notions of hell and paradise (as found in Islam) have gained increasing significance.

See also Bugis


Chabot, Hendrik Th. (1950). Verwantschap, stand en sexe in Zuid'Celebes. Groningen and Jakarta: J. B. Wolters.

Friedericy, Herman J. (1933). "De standen bij de Boegineezen en Makassaren." Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 90:447-602.

Rössler, Martin (1987). Die soziale Realität des Rituals: Kontinuität und Wandel bei den Makassar von Gowa (Süd-Sulawesi/Indonesien ). Berlin: D. Reimer.

Röttger-Rössler, Birgitt (1989). Rang und Ansehen bei den Makassar von Gowa (Süd-Sulawesi/Indonesien ). Berlin: D. Reimer.


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