Bugis Religion

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BUGIS RELIGION . The Bugis, sometimes referred to as the Buginese, are an Indonesian people numbering about three million, most of whom live in their homeland of Celebes (South Sulawesi). Bugis is an archaic form of their name retained by the Malay/Indonesian language; in fact they call themselves Ugi' or ToUgi'. Bugis emigrants have also established significant, mostly coastal, settlements throughout the Indonesian archipelago. They speak a language of the Western Austronesian family, the same family as their national language (Malay or Indonesian).

After a long period of contact with Muslim, mainly Malay, traders who had settled in their main trading harbors, and after some spontaneous but aborted attempts to adopt Christianity during the middle of the sixteenth century, the Bugis officially became Muslims between 1605 and 1610 under the initiative and pressure of the neighboring kingdom of Goa. But although they soon came to be considered among the most devout Muslims in the archipelago, they have retained in their traditions many pre-Islamic elements. These include the bissu, transvestite priests in charge of the regalia of the ruling house and of princely rituals; popular practitioners called sanro; sacred places, to which offerings are regularly brought; and the psalmody, on certain ceremonial occasions, of the sacred epic La galigo, which provides an interesting if incomplete view of pre-Islamic Bugis culture.

The Myth of Origin

The Bugis creation myth has been somewhat mixed with Islamic mysticism, but as far as it can be reconstituted, the early Bugis believed in a supreme deity called To Papunna ("the owner of everything") or Déwata Sisiné, later Déwata Séuwaé ("the one God"). From this deity emanated a male and a female being, linked to some extent to the sun and the moon. From their separated seed were born a number of beings who were not clearly identified; then from their sexual union were born the main gods of the upper-world and the underworld, said to number either seven, fourteen, or nineteen, according to various versions of the myth. Of these gods, six married couples are described in La galigo as playing a significant role, and two couples are mentioned as being more important than the others: one at the depths of the Abyss, whose male partner was known as Guri ri Selleʾ; and the other at the summit of Heaven, whose male entity, Datu Patotoʾ ("the prince who fixes destinies") or Datu Palanro ("the princely smith"), was considered the highest god of all. These two couples had nine children each, seven of whom reigned over various strata of Heaven or the Abyss. The eldest son of Datu Patotoʾ, La Togeʾlangiʾ (also known as Batara Guru), and Guru ri Selle's daughter were sent to the Middle World to establish there, in Luwu', the first human settlement. However, they are not the primeval ancestors of humankind, which rather descends from the servants who followed them from Heaven and the Abyss, as well as from the servants of other divine rulers, the children of the secondary heavenly and abyssal couples, who came later to establish other kingdoms in and around Sulawesi (Celebes).

The Political Myths

The La galigo epic tells of the life and deeds of six generations of earthly descendants to these first divine rulers, and especially of Sawérigading, the Bugis cultural hero, a grandson of Batara Guru. Still considered sacred by a small group of non-Muslim Bugis, La galigo is a repository of princely rituals, performed by the bissu, and of princely conduct. The epic tells that after the sixth generation of rulers descended from Batara Guru and other children of the gods, all princes of divine origin had to leave this world to go back to Heaven or the Abyss, except for the princely couple in Luwu'. All Bugis nobility is said to be descended either from that Luwuʾ couple, or from other divine princes sent either from Heaven (Tomanurung) or from the Abyss (Totompoʾ). Most of the Bugis lordships and kingdoms claim to have been founded by a divine couple, and they keep as regalia various articles such as swords, banners, and ploughs, which are said to have been brought by these ancestors of their rulers.

The Cult and Its Objects

Two kinds of closely related Bugis rituals can be distinguished. One was performed by the bissu at princely courts; now, however, the number of bissu is rapidly declining and their activity is becoming more and more limited. The other ritual is enacted by the popular practitioners called sanro, who are still very active in Bugis country. Both kinds of rituals include sacrifices (of buffalo, goats, or chickens) and offerings of glutinous rice, usually presented in four (or, sometimes, two, seven, or eight) colors. The rituals are performed during rites of passage, house or boat building, first-use rites, anniversaries, and during certain phases of the rice cycle, as well as at community celebrations in order to obtain the welfare or protection of the people, of the lordship, or of the state, especially in case of bad crops, epidemics, or wars.

In La galigo, the objects of the cult are expressly said to be the gods of Heaven and the Abyss; they decided, in turn, to people the Middle World just because "one is no god when there is no one to pay homage to you." Nowadays, the average Bugis knows very little of pre-Islamic theology, which, moreover, was never recorded systematically but was only implicit in the tradition. Still, many Bugis continue to believe that besides Allāh, whom they call Puang Allataala or Déwata Séuwaé, there are many spiritual beings to whom one must pay homage and who, in turn, act as intercessors between humans and the supreme being, who is too far above humankind to be contacted directly. Sawérigading is sometimes named as one such intervening figure, but he seems to have been the object of a cult maintained more by the bissu than by laity. Likewise, a deity named Déwata Mattanru' Kati ("the god with golden horns"), to whom a special cult is rendered by the bissu, may be one of the heavenly gods of La galigo. Other divine beings who are, still today, the object of a general cult among all categories of Bugis include the rice goddess, Sangiang Serri. According to La galigo she was the first child born on earth to Bataru Guru, but she died after seven days, whereupon her body, once buried, transformed itself into the rice plant. Another revered being is Taddampali, an aquatic being who may be the same as La Punna Liung, the messenger of the Abyss in La galigo. Included here also are the local tomanurung ("descended [from heaven] beings"). Many Bugis still keep in their homes wooden tabernacles or miniature beds where the divine beings are said to descend during ceremonies.

Other kinds of spiritual or invisible beings (totenrita ) also appear as divine-human intercessors. Among these are house and boat spirit guardians and local spirits dwelling in large stones, trees, or springs. Other spirits may be dangerous, as for example the paddengngeng ("hunters"), invisible horsemen who capture people's souls with their lassos, thereby provoking unexpected illness and death. Their kingdom, described in some of the oral traditions, seems to recall the Land of the Dead as described in La galigo.

The Afterworld

In La galigo, the afterworld is described as a distant island somewhere in the western seas. The dead come first to a land where they must wait until all the funerary rituals and required offerings have been accomplished by their living relatives; otherwise they cannot proceed further. In that place, sinners must also undergo various punishments. The dead must then take a ritual bath, pay their entrance to the keeper of the heartland, and cross a golden bridge. In the inner Land of the Dead, everything is the reverse of life among the living.

With Islamicization, most of these observances have been obliterated, and Muslim funerals have now replaced traditional ones. However, an ancestor cult still exists that features pilgrimages to sacred, non-Islamic graves and offerings brought to family ancestors in a special place in the home.


Hamonic, Gilbert. "Pour une étude comparée des cosmogonies de Célèbes-Sud: À propos d'un manuscrit inédit sur l'origine des dieux bugis." Archipel 25 (1983): 3562. The first translated edition, with commentary, of a hitherto secret text on creation and the genesis of the gods according to a Bugis view.

Hamonic, Gilbert. Le langage des dieux: Cultes et rituels préislamiques du pays bugis (Célèbes-Sud, Indonésie ). Paris, 1987. An important work containing a corpus of about two thousand verses of bissu ritual chants, with translation and commentary.

Kern, Rudolph A. Catalogus van de Boegineesche, tot den I La Galigo cyclus behoorende handschriften der Leidsche Universiteits Bibliotheek, alsmede van die in andere Europeesche bibliotheken. Leiden, 1939.

Kern, Rudolph A. Catalogus van de Boeginese, tot de I La Galigo-cyclus behorende handschriften van Jajasan Matthes (Matthesstichting ) te Makassar (Indonesie ). Makassar, Indonesia, 1954. A complete compilation in two books of all manuscripts containing episodes of the La galigo epic. Includes lists of gods and heros appearing in the cycle.

Matthes, Benjamin F. Boeginesche chresthomathie: Oorspronkelijke Boeginesche geschriften in proza en poëzij, uitgegeven, van aanteekeningen voorzien en ten deele vertaald. 3 vols. Vol. 1, Makassar, Indonesia, 1864; vols. 2 and 3, Amsterdam, 1872. The only anthology thus far available of Bugis texts, including the beginning of the La galigo epic. Liberally annotated.

Matthes, Benjamin F. Over de bissoe's of heidensche priesters en priesteessen der Boeginezen. Amsterdam, 1872. An extremely valuable account of the bissu priests and their rituals.

Pelras, Christian. "'Herbe divine': Le riz chez les Bugis (Indonésie)." Études rurales 5356 (1974): 357374. A description of rice cultivation among the Bugis, including associated rituals.

Pelras, Christian. "Le panthéon des anciens Bugis, à travers les textes de La galigo." Archipel 25 (1983): 6597. A reconstitution of the Bugis pantheon and worldview, according to the La galigo epic and other texts.

New Sources

Guillaumont, A., and C. Amiel. "Qu'est-ce qu'un dieu." Revue de l'histoire des religions 205 (1988): 339465.

Hamonic, Gilbert. "God, Divinities and Ancestors for the Positive Representation of a Religious Plurality in Bugis Society, South Sulawesi, Indonesia." Southeast Asian Studies (Tonan Ajia kenkyu [Kyoto]) 29, no. 1 (1991): 334.

Hamonic, Gilbert, and Christian Pelras. "En quete des dieux bugis: entre mythe et rituel, entre silence et parole." Revue de l'histoire des religions 205 (1988): 345366.

Pelras, Christian. The Bugis. Oxford, 1996.

Christian Pelras (1987)

Revised Bibliography