Skip to main content



ETHNONYMS: Boegineezen, Buginese, To Bugi, To Ugi', To Wugi'


Identification. The Bugis are the predominant ethnic group inhabiting the southern peninsula of the island of Sulawesi (formerly Celebes) in Indonesia. They speak a distinct language also called Bugis, although linguistically and culturally they are closely related to the neighboring Makassarese who are dominant in the southern tip of the peninsula. Their ethnic autonym"To Ugi'"derives from a village formerly on the Cenrana River. Other Indonesian ethnic groups often call them "To Bugi," while the Indonesian label is "Bugis."

Location. Within the province Sulawesi Selatan, Bugis are concentrated along the coasts of the southwestern peninsula and in the rice plains of its interior, north of the city of Ujung Pandang and south of the mountains of Tana Toraja (roughly between 5° and 4° S along a peninsula spine at 120° E). The region is composed of several agroclimatic zones. The west coast has its highest rainfall in December, while the east coast is wettest around May. Intermediate areas (e.g., interior rice plains) have a bimodal distribution with two dry seasons. Bugis have settled throughout the Indonesian archipelago as traders, fishermen, and farmers, especially in eastern Sumatra and the Riau Archipelago and along the entire shoreline of Sulawesi, as well as in coastal areas of Kalimantan, Buru, Ambon, Flores, and most of the islands of eastern Indonesia. The rhythm of both agriculture and trading has been affected by the prevailing monsoon seasons in all these settlements.

Demography. Extrapolating proportions from the 1930 census, the last to itemize ethnic groups, estimates of Bugis in South Sulawesi in the 1970s ranged around 3.2 million speakers. Given continuing population growth and the many Bugis outside the homeland, a current estimate of over 4 million is not unreasonable. Within the 72,781 square kilometers of the province, Sulawesi Selatan's 1990 population is projected at 7,082,118, with an average population density of 91 persons per square kilometer and an annual growth rate of 1.74 percent. Continual out-migration keeps the growth rate below the national average; the sex ratio of 96 indicates the preponderance of males in this out-migration.

Linguistic Affiliation. Bugis, Makassarese, Mandar, Sa'dan Toraja, Pitu Ulunna Salo, Seko, and Massenrempulu (Duri) form a distinct South Sulawesi Subbranch within the Western Indonesian Branch of Austronesian languages. Sa'dan Toraja speakers are the closest linguistic relatives of the Bugis, while the speakers of Central Sulawesi languages to the north represent an indigenous population whose occupation preceded that of the South Sulawesi peoples. Bugis and Makassarese share a common script based on an Indic model. In this syllabic script, each of twenty-two symbols stands for a consonant, sometimes prenasalized, plus the inherent vowel a. The five other vowels are indicated by adding diacritics. One further symbol stands for a vowel without a preceding consonant. Writing was developed around 1400, but probably does not derive directly from Javanese kawi.

History and Cultural Relations

Reconstruction of proto-South-Sulawesi suggests the lower course of the Sa'dan River as the homeland from which Bugis dispersed, moving up the Sa'dan Valley and across to the Gulf of Bone, settling in the Palopo area and then expanding to the south. Luwu', centered at the head of the Gulf of Bone, was the first great kingdom. Although Luwu' was based on control of trade, especially iron and nickel, by the fourteenth century the rise of complex chiefdoms based on wet-rice agriculture among Bugis to the south had led to its eclipse. After the sixteenth-century rise of Makassar to commercial preeminence, the Makassarese realms of Goa and Tallo achieved overlordship over most Bugis areas by the mid-seventeenth century. The Bugis realm of Bone allied with the Dutch to overthrow Makassar in 1667 and became the most powerful of the South Sulawesi kingdoms thereafter, a position maintained more or less throughout the colonial era. Refugees from Bugis realms, especially Wajo', formerly allied with Makassar, began the great diaspora of Bugis throughout the archipelago in 1670. Bugis mercenaries attained positions of power in Johor, the Riau Archipelago, Aceh, and elsewhere (including Thailand), while in later migrations Bugis opened settlements in Jambi and elsewhere in eastern Sumatra. Many Bugis nobles associated themselves with twentieth-century Indonesian independence movements. Thus they and their descendants have retained considerable prestige and power by occupying positions of influence in the bureaucracy of modern Indonesia.


The national government has consolidated Bugis settlements into municipal villages (desa ) that range in size between 2,000 and 10,000 inhabitants in rural areas. The centers of these desa are located along main roads, with the majority of the population in dwellings clustered along both sides of thoroughfares. However, desa also include more remote hamlets of several houses clustered among rice fields and gardens, reachable by minor roads or tracks. Each desa usually contains between two and five hamlets. During growing seasons some family members may reside in field huts dispersed among fields. Most Bugis have retained their traditional forms of stilted houses, sometimes 3 meters or more off the ground, with plank walls and floors. Only the very poorest have thatch walls. Roofs are now almost always made of corrugated iron. The number of tiers appearing on the front gable indicates the rank of the householder.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. South Sulawesi serves as the rice bowl for eastern Indonesia, and its wet-rice plains form the heartland of the Bugis. Government rice-intensification programs have converted farmers to miracle rice varieties in almost all areas, with heavy inputs of fertilizer and pesticides. Mechanization has been more sporadic, with some farmers still using water buffalo and oxen to plow and harrow their fields, while others resort to minitractors. Besides large livestock, most households keep chickens; young boys herd ducks as an ancillary occupation. The sickle has replaced the finger knife (ani-ani ) for harvesting all but ritually important glutinous rice varieties. Although groups of relatives and friends still gather to harvest communally in some areas, harvesting is increasingly being performed by itinerant bands of landless Makassarese, as well as Mandarese and migrant Javanese. The latter two groups are also hired as planting teams. Coastal Bugis also work as fishermen in boats plying the Strait of Makassar and Gulf of Bone, as well as engaging in pond-fish cultivation. Bugis outside the homeland are known for opening wet-rice fields, but have also developed stands of coconut palms, clove trees, pepper plants, and other cash crops.

Industrial Arts. Tailors, mechanics, and other specialists sometimes reside and practice in villages, but more often are clustered in towns and cities. Bugis women are expected to be proficient at weaving silk sarongs, which is carried on as a cottage industry. Chinese perform many commercial and industrial roles in the cities, and make the intricate filigree silverwork for which the area is known.

Trade. Bugis are famed as traders throughout the archipelago and successfully continue to transport cargoes of bicycle tires, wood, household accessories, and other goods in small ships of traditional design (e.g., pinisi and paduwakang ), though now motorized. In many remote interior areas, from Sulawesi itself to Irian Jaya, Bugis run the only village kiosks. As itinerant peddlers, Bugis also sell cloth, costume jewelry, and other goods. Although Chinese control distribution of more capital-intensive goods such as electronics in city shops, Bugis are the major vendors of fish, rice, cloth, and small goods in the stalls of urban and rural markets. Women are often the vendors of such goods, especially foodstuffs, in rotating rural markets.

Division of Labor. Men perform most stages of work in the rice fields, but harvesting teams are composed of both sexes. Women and children sometimes perform minor tasks in fields, such as protecting against birds. Besides domestic tasks such as cooking and child care, women also are expected to weave silk sarongs for sale. Many Bugis women serve as vendors of foodstuffs and other goods in markets, and have control over the income derived from their own sales. Women, often divorcées, may also be itinerant peddlers.

Land Tenure. Although smallholder plots of less than 1 hectare are still found in areas of intensified rice cultivation, modernization has resulted in increasing landlessness. Many farmers resort to sharecropping (téseng ) arrangements allowing them to keep a portion of the harvest, with better lands (e.g., with technical irrigation) yielding a higher proportion to the landowner. Such arrangements continue the tradition of landed nobles granting the use of fields to their followers. Landlessness has resulted in increased circular migration to cities and out-migration to wilderness areas outside South Sulawesi, where fields can be opened.


Kin Groups and Descent. The Bugis exhibit a general Eskimo kinship organization with bilateral descent. Personal kindreds function as occasional kin groups and are often referred to by the term siajing. The kapolo of Luwu' has been described as an ambilateral ramage, but this type of group, although centered on a core of related noble kin, also includes nonconsanguineally related members. It is thus better considered an entourage of followers, invoked on such occasions as marriages of noble leaders.

Kinship Terminology. Eskimo cousin terms are used. While cousin terms are not differentiated, same-sex sibling terms are differentiated as elder and younger, while opposite-sex sibling terms are also distinguished. Neither father's nor mother's siblings are distinguished by sex, nor from each other; the same is true for siblings' and cousins' children. Grandparent and grandchild terms can be further specified reciprocally as from the lap, knee, calf, instep, and "scraping interface" as the generational difference moves from 2 to 7 (e.g., eppo ri uttu, "grandchild of the knee" = great-grandchild) . The importance of rank is evident in the divergent usage of address terms by nobles and commoners. Nobles of higher generation or greater age in the same generation are addressed as "lord" (puang ). Where generation and age are incongruent, a combination of terms is often used. Commoners may extend kin terms to nonkin, and usually use teknonyms to address and refer to fellow commoners.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriages are traditionally arranged by parents or noble patrons. Nobles tend to favor marriages among close relatives, with first-cousin marriage especially preferred. Marriage is hypergamous, with the bride-price received for daughters and sisters the clearest marker of family status. As a matter of family honor, a young girl should be married off as soon as possible after menarche. By Islamic law, men may have up to four wives, but polygyny, even among nobles, is increasingly rare, although a few decades ago the highest nobles sometimes had dozens of wives. Among commoners, immediate postmarital residence is uxorilocal, but among nobles a lower-status wife may move to the residence of her higher-status husband. Divorce is common, especially among couples originally united in arranged marriages.

Domestic Unit. The developmental cycle is based on the stem family, although most domestic groups reside neolocally in nuclear family residences at some point in the cycle. Often the youngest daughter remains or is called back to provide for elderly parents. Households frequently contain retainers, often poor relatives but sometimes unrelated children of clients, who perform household chores for room, board, and (in cities) schooling expenses.

Inheritance. In accordance with Islamic law, women receive half the inheritance portion of their brothers. But intervening factors such as which child (often a daughter) has remained to take care of the parents influence inheritance shares, especially of the parental house. Both men and women may inherit rice land.

Socialization. Both parents are involved in the upbringing of children, and elder siblings, especially sisters, often act as caretakers. Fathers often administer corporal punishment, encouraging sons to act aggressively by taunting and mock fighting. Cross-sex sibling ties are especially strong, while the same-sex sibling relation can be full of tension and opposition. Allowing elderly and childless relatives to raise some of one's children is common, as is the practice of allowing children living with urban relatives to attend higher levels of school.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Consciousness of rank differences pervades all activities. All traditional domains recognized a basic division into nobles, commoners, and slaves, but the composition and perquisites of intermediate ranks varied across domains. As descendants of heavenly beings, nobles are believed to possess white blood, increasingly diluted by intermarriage with lower ranks. However, an ethos of enterprise complements this hierarchy, allowing social mobility based on economic, military, and political achievement. Although recognition of nobility continues, slavery has been abolished, though descendants of slaves are still readily identified. Hierarchical relations are seen as supportive and caring, while relationships among putative peers are competitive and oppositional.

Political Organization. Traditional realms were governed by the nobility, who constituted a unitary intermarrying class that transcended the domain boundaries. Leader-follower groups, entourages around noble cores, provided the basis of political allegiance. Although patron-client relations of this sort persist, penetration of the national government has produced changes at the local level. The province is divided into twenty-three regencies (kabupaten ), in twelve of which Bugis are the predominant ethnic group, while two others are transitional between Bugis and Makassarese occupation. These regencies roughly correspond to former realms with government-appointed leaders often chosen from local noble families. However, the government is increasingly appointing former military personnel, often from outside the area, as heads of regencies, as well as at the lower district (kecamatan ) and municipal village (desa) levels. Many of these appointees claim noble status, as part of the general trend to "title inflation." Each desa has a headman, as do the hamlets of which a desa is composed. Increasingly, headmen are being converted to employees of the national government (pegawai negeri ). Both within the government hierarchy and in informal contexts, dispensing patronage to lower-status followers remains a crucial element of local politics.

Social Control. A value system emphasizing deference to leaders of higher rank provides one basis of social control, although such leaders traditionally had to validate their leadership by military exploits and the distribution of largesse to followers. A sharp sense of personal honor/shame (siri' ) continues to motivate much social behavior, especially in such contexts as the elopement (silariang ) of a daughter or sister, where family status must be defended by pursuit and punishment of the couple. Islamic functionaries or respected nobles act as mediators in such cases. Even the provincial government seeks the validation of local experts in customary law (pallontara' ), who sanction development programs at large public meetings.

Conflict. In the past, considerable conflict was generated by succession disputes, in which nobles led their entourages against fellow claimants backed by other neighboring realms. Migrant Bugis were active as mercenaries throughout the colonial period, and often determined the balance of power in such areas as the Riau Archipelago and the Kutei Sultanate of East Kalimantan. South Sulawesi's 1950-1965 secessionist uprising against the Republic of Indonesia was carried out under the aegis of Islam, but its leader also attacked the privileges of indigenous nobility. The increasing role of the military in local governance since that time has precluded large-scale conflict. Nevertheless, the provincial capital has witnessed riots against local Chinese.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Almost all Bugis adhere to Islam, but there is great variety in the types of Islam practiced. Most Bugis identify themselves as Sunni Muslims, but their practice, influenced by Sufi tenets, is a syncretic blend that also includes offerings to spirits of ancestors and deceased powerful personages. However, reformist Islamic organizations, especially Muhammadiyah, have gained many adherents in some areas and have established their own educational institutions. The I La Galigo literature preserved in ancient manuscripts (lontara' ) describes a cosmology involving an upper-world and an underworld, each of seven layers, and a host of heavenly beings from whom nobles trace descent, but knowledge of details of this literature is not widespread among commoners. The To Lotang, a group of non-Muslim Bugis in Sidrap regency, continue to adhere to an indigenous belief system based on the lontara' and similar to that of the Toraja to the north, but has had to affiliate with the national Hindu movement to retain legitimacy as a religion. The extent to which Hindu-Buddhist notions have influenced Bugis religious and sociopolitical notions is currently a matter of debate.

The I La Galigo literature presents a pantheon of deities (dewata ) from whom nobles trace descent, but contemporary Bugis argue that this literature basically recognizes a single great God (Dewata Seuwa é ) in accord with the monotheism of Islam. Despite this, some of the other deities (e.g., the rice goddess) are still given offerings, even by Muslims. Village Bugis also recognize a panoply of local spirits associated with the house, the newborn, and sacred sites; they are variously termed "the ethereal ones" (to alusu' ), "the not-to-be-seen" (to tenrita ), "evil spirits" (sétang ), etc. In fact, every object is thought to have its own animating spirit (sumange' ), whose welfare must be catered to in order to insure good fortune and avert catastrophe.

Religious Practitioners. In addition to Islamic judges (kali ), imams serve as local leaders of the Muslim community; they conduct Friday worship services, deliver sermons, and preside at marriages, funerals, and local ceremonies sanctioned by Islam. Small numbers of transvestite priests (bissu ), traditionally the guardians of royal regalia, still, though rarely, perform rituals involving chants in a special register of Bugis directed to traditional deities recognized in the lontara'. Curing and consecration ceremonies are conducted by sanro, practitioners with arcane knowledge and expertise in presenting offerings and prayers to local spirits.

Ceremonies. Besides the celebration of calendric Islamic holidays (Lebaran, Maulid, etc.), Bugis of syncretic orientation perform many domestic consecration ceremonies (assalamakeng ) involving offerings to local spirits, guardians of the house, supernatural siblings of the newly born, and other such spirits. Some districts and regencies also sponsor festivals marking planting and harvesting, although some of these have become more civic spectacles than religious celebrations. Especially among nobles, weddings are major occasions for the display of status and often involve presentations of local culture, including processions. The bissu rituals, however, increasingly are restricted and performed without large audiences.

Arts. Regional dances (e.g., padendang ) are still performed at some ceremonies for the harvest and other occasions, as well as at government-sponsored festivals, but some (e.g., bissu dances) are now rarely performed. Young men enjoy practicing Indonesian martial arts (pencak silat ) and the traditional sport of maintaining a woven rattan ball (raga ) in the air with one's feet and other body parts, excluding the hands. Traditional Bugis houses still abound, and are used as the basis of modern architectural designs, but figurative art is meager in keeping with Islam. Bugis music is also heavily influenced by Middle Eastern models. Music performed on flute (suling ) and lute (kacapi ) similar to that in West Java is common. Epic songs of traditional and contemporary martial heroes are still composed and performed, even on radio. Amulets, especially of Middle Eastern origin, are in demand, while Bugis badik, daggers with characteristically curved handles, are prized heirlooms. Gold ornaments and gold-threaded songket cloths are paraded at weddings. Royal regalia are now on display in some local museums.

Medicine. While Western medicine has made inroads with the government-established rural medical health centers (puskesmas ), many illnesses are seen as specifically Bugis and curable only by indigenous practitioners (sanro ) who use such techniques as extraction of foreign objects, massage, use of bespelled or holy water, and blowing on the patient after the utterance of prayers. Illness may be due to one's spirit leaving the body when subjected to sudden shock, and certain therapies are directed to its recovery. Invulnerability magic is much prized, with the shadow playing an important protective role. Certain illnesses and misfortunes are inflicted by specific spirits associated with each of the four major elementsfire, air, earth, and water.

Death and Afterlife. Islamic notions of heaven and hell are now most influential, although among syncretic Bugis local spirits are still identified as the spirits of deceased rulers and other formerly powerful individuals. Funerals follow Islamic rites, and are not occasions for major redistributions, as among the neighboring Toraja. Memorial gatherings for prayer and a shared meal may be performed at such intervals as forty days after a death.

See also Makassar


Andaya, Leonard (1981). The Heritage of Arung Palakka: A History of South Sulawesi (Celebes) in the Seventeenth Century. Verhandelingen van het Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Landen Volkenkunde. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

Errington, Shelly (1989). Meaning and Power in a Southeast Asian Realm. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Hamonic, Gilbert (1987). Le langage des dieux: Cultes et pouvoirs pré-islamiques en pays bugis Célèbes-Sud, Indonésie. Paris: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.

Miliar, Susan Bolyard (1989). Bugis Weddings: Rituals of Social Location in Modern Indonesia. Berkeley: University of California at Berkeley, Center for South and Southeast Asia Studies.

Pelras, Christian, et al. (1975). Archipel: Etudes interdisciplinaires sur le monde insulindien, no. 10. Special issue devoted to South Sulawesi.


Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Bugis." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . 20 Feb. 2019 <>.

"Bugis." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . (February 20, 2019).

"Bugis." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved February 20, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.