Indonesia – Our Planet’s Largest Archipelago – The Ring Of Fire

Indonesia, with over 17,500 islands, a population of more than 250 million, scattered both sides of the equator over a land mass some 2 million square kilometers from Sabang in northern Sumatra to Merauke in Irian Jaya, has from the beginning of time been a region of immense volcanic activity…   Indonesia today has over 400 existing peaks, of which at least 150 are still active...  If you superimpose a map of Indonesia over one of The West, you will find it stretches from the United Kingdom to The Middle East…

There are eight major islands or island groups in this enormous chain…  The largest being Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan (Borneo), Sulawesi (Celebes) and Irian Jaya (the Western half of Papua New Guinea)…  The smaller islands fall into two main groups, the Moluccas to the Northeast, and the Lesser Sunda chain East of Bali.

The first known inhabitant of Indonesia was the so called "Java Man", or Homo erectus, who lived here half a million years ago…  Some 60,000 years ago, the ancestors of the present day Papuans moved eastward through these islands, eventually reaching New Guinea and Australia some 40,000 years ago...  Much later, in about the fourth millennium BC, they were followed by the ancestors of the modern day Malays, Javanese and other Malayo/Polynesian groups who now make up the bulk of Indonesia's population…

Trade contracts with China, India and mainland Asia brought cultural and religious influences to Indonesia…  One of the first Indianized empires, known to us now as Sriwijaya, was located on the coast of Sumatra around the strategic straits of Malacca, serving as the hub of a trading network that reached to many parts of the archipelago more than a thousand years ago… 

On neighboring Java, large kingdoms of the interior erected scores of exquisite religious monuments, such as Borobudur, the largest Buddhist monument in the world…  The last and most powerful of these early Hindu-Javanese kingdoms, the 14th century Majapahit Empire, once controlled and influenced much of what is now known as Indonesia, maintaining contacts with trading outposts as far away as the west coast of Papua New Guinea... 

Indian Muslim traders began spreading Islam in Indonesia in the eighth and ninth centuries...  By the time Marco Polo visited North Sumatra at the end of the 13th century, the first Islamic states were already established there…  Soon afterwards, rulers on Java's north coast adopted the new creed and conquered the Hindu-based Majapahit in the Javanese hinterland...  The faith gradually spread throughout the archipelago, and Indonesia is today the world's largest Islamic nation.

Indonesia's abundant spices first brought Portuguese merchants to the key trading port of Malacca in 1511…  Prized for their flavor, spices such as cloves, nutmeg and mace were also believed to cure everything from the plague to venereal disease, and were literally worth their weight in gold...  The Dutch eventually wrestled control of the spice trades from Portuguese, and the tenacious Dutch East India Company established a spice monopoly which lasted well into the 18th century…  During the 19th century, the Dutch began sugar and coffee cultivation in Java, and were soon providing three-fourths of the world supply of coffee…

By the turn of the 20th century, nationalist stirring, brought about by nearly three centuries of oppressive colonial rule, began to challenge the Dutch presence in Indonesia...  A four year guerilla war led by nationalists against the Dutch on Java after World War II, along with successful diplomatic maneuverings abroad, helped bring about independence...  The Republic of Indonesia, officially proclaimed on August 17th, 1945, gained sovereignty four years later... 

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The Original Pirates & the "Boogey Man"...

A pirate is a sea trader, with attitude... With over 17,000 islands, an ocean on each side and a healthy respect for the sea, Indonesians have developed over generations into some of the greatest sea faring ethnic groups in the world...  The ocean has been a family affair for generations and whole families, communities and ethnic groups have become synonymous with life on the high seas, but none more so than the Bugis...  The folklore of this ethnic group from southern Sulawesi, east of Makassar has taken on a life of its own and a new meaning...

"Be careful or the Boogey man will get you."  To be more exact "Be careful or the Bugis man will get you."  This saying has come down through generations and is now present in western culture and language to speak of a mysterious danger that quickly attacks...  Dutch and British Sailors learned this through experience in dealing with the masters of the sea the Bugis...

A community that is dedicated to the seas...  They are born on water, live on water and are buried in their waters...  Life is a difficult one, moving with the winds and creating homes upon coral rocks with wooden gangways linking homes...  Local timber is used to expand and they live off what they catch...  Apprenticeships are common, sons learning the skills and trades of ship building and sailing from their fathers...  Literacy levels are low as there is no great need for words only actions are needed...

The ships they originally used to make were solid hull vessels with old style steering oars as opposed to rudders...  Their houses were placed onto of the vessels built for necessity...  How far did they travel?  There is evidence that trips to far off islands such as Australia were commonplace, wall painting made by Australian Aborigines depict Bugis ships trading in sea cucumbers...

The majority of the daily activities for these people were acting as traders between the islands...  A simple life yet difficult subsistence living...  In recent years more foreign interaction has brought diseases and illness that they had never before experienced...  Mix that with a greater reliance for common comforts like electricity and the way of this ancient and unique tribe is slowly starting to disappear...  So if you are on the seas of Indonesia and see small man made trading ships pass you by, be careful it just might be the Boogey Man.

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The History and Tradition of the Bugis Shipbuilders...

The Bonto Bahari region, where we build our ships in South Sulawesi, is the heartland of the Konjo boat builders...  The men of this local community, part of the Bugis ethnic group are renowned seafarers and famous for their brilliant boat building skills...  It is said that they have been able to build and exploit their ships for more than four centuries...   These master crafts men have passed their traditions and knowledge orally from father to son, it is mind blowing to watch them work on the beach using their ancestral skills and natural gifts...  Their building techniques which thrived in the times of piracy have amazingly remained unchanged as time passed...

Needless to say, the history of the local people is remarkably rooted in the boat building tradition... Considering the age old Konjo culture, this unique craft is also steeped in animist ancient beliefs... Despite the recent dominance of the Muslim religion in the area, the locals are people of many creeds in the supernatural world...  They interpret the history of their origins and of the region through myths such as the legend of Sawerigading part of the La Galigo cycle tale...  The construction of a boat involves many significant rituals which add to the spirituality of the creative process and covey strength and soul to each ship...

Watching the construction of a ship in this region is always a pledge to an outstanding cultural experience and a travel back in time...

Legend states that a prince named Sawerigading was sailing in a cursed magical boat trying to return to his true love, his sister...  During this journey he encountered a huge storm and his boat broke into pieces in the Straits of Selayar...  As story goes the body of the boat was washed ashore at Tanah Beru and Ara giving the people their inspiration for boat building...  The mast, rigging and sails were washed ashore at Bira, which gave the people an idea of how a boat works...  The young men of Bira traditionally become sailors and even now travel the globe with cargo ships and tankers, whereas the young men of the other villages traditionally become boat builders like their fathers and grandfathers...  These skills are passed down orally from generation to generation and still flourish today...

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