Pinisi and the art of boatbuilding in Sulawesi recognised by UNESCO

LEFT:<em> Pinisi </em>trading ship on the Barito River, S.E.Kalimantan, 1983. RIGHT: <em>Patorani </em>fishing boat, Makassar Harbour 1985. Photographs: Jeffrey Mellefont.

LEFT: Pinisi trading ship on the Barito River, S.E.Kalimantan, 1983. RIGHT: Patorani fishing boat, Makassar Harbour 1985. Photographs: Jeffrey Mellefont.

UNESCO heritage-lists Indonesian wooden-boat building

Across the 17,000 equatorial islands comprising the Republic of Indonesia, the ingenious arts of timber boat building have been a crucial enabler of human ventures from prehistoric times until today. As ports, kingdoms and states developed, distinctive traditions of boat building and seafaring underpinned trade, politics and warfare, transport and communications as well as day-to-day livelihoods and subsistence … more so in this sprawling tropical archipelago than in just about any other region in the world.

These accomplished seafarers, key participants in the world’s spice trade since ancient times, have also had long-standing economic and cultural connections with nearby northern Australia and its Indigenous coastal populations. Best-known was a centuries-old fishery that brought annual fleets from the central Indonesian island of Sulawesi, harvesting a costly, luxury marine product for trade with imperial China. This teripang or bêche-de-mer fishery was long-established when British settlers first arrived, but was prohibited in 1906 by customs officials of the new Commonwealth of Australia.
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Boats in Sulawesi: An illustrated journey

Fishing port, Ampana. Image: Richard Gregory.

Fishing port, Ampana. Image: Richard Gregory.

A glimpse of some traditional boats: Fifty-six days in Sulawesi, Indonesia, 2015 

This visit began in Manado at the northern tip of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi and included a ferry journey from Gorontalo to Ampana via the Togean Islands, a week’s stay in Tentena on the shores of Lake Poso, three weeks in the Toraja highlands, a few days in Makassar and four days at Bira Beach on the southern tip of Sulawesi.

Throughout much of the journey I rendered many drawings directly from life and they include a number of studies of traditional boats. It’s these images that I wish to share along with these notes, visuals and maps about boatbuilding in Sulawesi, and its wider context.

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The Maritime Museum tour : ‘Celebes Sailors, Ships and Spice’

You haven’t seen Indonesia until you have been to South Sulawesi.

Our group of 14 intrepid ANMM members set off on 2nd June with our leader Jeffrey Mellefont, five Indonesian guides and a driver for a two week adventure tracking the history of the Makassan/Bugi forays to Northern Australia in search of the Trepang, the building of the pinisi wooden boats and the magic culture of South Sulawesi.

Photo courtesy of fellow traveller Robert Osmond

Photo courtesy of fellow traveller Robert Osmond

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