Like Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”, you’ve somehow found your way to Makassar, Indonesia. This is a destination one could aptly describe as the port not visited, well at least not very much. Most world travelers don’t make it to Sulawesi should they get to Indonesia at all. Business travelers get to Jakarta. Honeymooners and backpackers do Bali. You, on the other hand, are here. So why not discover a bit about it.
What’s In A Name?
Well, until 1999 Makassar was called Ujung Padang so maybe you have been here before and didn’t realize it. It’s found on the southern portion of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Sulawesi is found straddling the Equator and surrounded by a number of seas you’ve probably never heard of including the Celebes, the Maluku, the Banda, the Flores, and so on.
When you do find your way to the island of Sulawesi you’ll discover that it’s shaped like a dancing giraffe with its neck tossed back over his hindquarters. Makassar is found on his left front hoof. Keep that image with you as you travel about and you’ll never get lost.
Some Important Details
The island is massive, sculpted with bays and inlets and coves. All this drama is ringed with tempting sandy beaches. Offshore are colorful reefs and rainbows of tropical fish. Inland are jagged peaks, dark and steamy jungles, pockets of peoples whose culture has evolved relatively undisturbed for generations. That isolation has allowed them to hold on to traditions associated with such things as funerals and temple worship, and to create a cuisine that is quite alien to outsiders. An oft-avoided-by-visitors example is stewed forest rat. However, those who’ve been brave (or hungry) enough to sample it claim this delicacy is an “acquired taste” that is “similar to chicken”. So is a sneaker, if you’re hungry.
Who Are These People?
Scientists and researchers love this area because of its unique type of isolation. The rugged inland areas sheltered people from outside influences for a long time, protecting their way of life until recent history. At least well into the 20th century. Among the many groups of people living on Sulawesi, there are three groups who claim the greatest membership. First, the Makassarese. They, along with another group called the Bugis, make their homes in the southwestern portion of the island. This is the peninsula that would be, in our illustration, the giraffe’s forelegs. Inhabiting what would be our giraffe’s tossed-back neck and head, hence the north, are the Christian Minihasans. It’s also claimed that the Bugis number approximately two-thirds of the island’s population. They form Sulawesi’s largest group. South Sulawesi’s landlocked interior is where the Toraja people reside and it’s their colorful lifestyle that lures visitors from abroad.
And, speaking of isolation, there’s something called the “Wallace Line”. It all goes back to an adventurous English lad by the name of Alfred Russell Wallace. In the mid-19th century, he set about surveying this island as well as that of Borneo. He established communication with Charles Darwin, detailing for him his ideas about the flora and fauna that were distinct and unique to Sulawesi, thus completely different from Borneo despite their geographical proximity. Evidently that sparked some further thought by Darwin who, himself, began detailing the same type of data from his research. Like Darwin, Wallace gained notoriety regarding his findings on the Indonesian Archipelago. His imaginary boundary became known as the “Wallace Line”, and it defined the demarcation of fauna. That invisible barrier runs between Borneo and Bali, as well as between Lombok and Sulawesi where you now are.
Where Are You?
Well, Makassar is quite a lively place when compared to much of the rest of the island. With more than 1.5 million people, it’s busy and bustling, an active port that is, frankly, big city-ish. There are large malls as well as storefront vendors offering everything from dyed fabrics to sacks of rice harvested from the inland terraces. It’s those rice terraces most visitors come to see by really getting out of Makassar. Before they do, however, they visit Fort Rotterdam. Built atop the foundation of a previous fort, the 1545 Gowanese fort, it today houses the I La Galigo Museum that exhibits artifacts, daily household items, various costumes and coins, musical instruments and scale models, as well as implements used in everyday life.
And, speaking of costumes and musical instruments, visitors often take home these items as mementos of their trip to Makassar. Souvenirs are basically our lifeblood. Might we suggest, however, as a little reminder of your visit you purchase something useful like Makassar brassware or pottery. Then perhaps you could whip up some Indonesian specialties (not the rat dish), invite friends over for an evening of fun, and show them photos of your trip to this part of the world, to the port not often visited.