National Geographic : 1945 Jan
Seafarers of South Celebes BY G. E. P. COLLINS With Illustrationsfrom Photographsby the Author ADJI BADONG was about to sail for Salajar, an island south of Celebes in the Netherlands Indies, and had asked me to go with him. His ship, the Mula Mulai, was one of about eighty that crowded the prau harbor in Makassar, lying so closely packed that many were touching. Their sterns rose like the high poop of the Santa Maria. There was a good reason for the resemblance, for not long after the Santa Maria's day some Portuguese caravels called at Makassar on their way to the Spice Islands (Moluccas).* The south Celebes seafarers copied these Western ships, adding similar high sterns to their own low hulls (page 56). I had been in Makassar for about a week, and had spent my time talking with masters of ships in the prau harbor. We had no diffi culty in understanding each other, as the prau masters spoke Malay, the widespread lan guage that is a necessity to them on their voy ages in the Netherlands Indies, where at least 250 languages and dialects are spoken. I had picked up "basic" Malay during a former stay of some years in Malaya, and in Java and other islands of the Malay Archipelago.J Hadji Badong's fellow countrymen, the Buginese and Makassaran peoples of south Celebes, are among the finest shipbuilders and sailors in the islands. Though they number only some two million out of the 72,000,000 population of the Indies, they play a highly important part in Indonesian life as carriers of interisland cargoes. Islands Had 4,000 Ships Before the Japanese occupation there were about four thousand Indonesian-owned sailing ships in the Netherlands Indies. Their sails were to be seen in all Malayan seas from Su matra to New Guinea, from Mindanao to Timor. From the decks of steamers, travelers in the archipelago frequently saw the familiar praus sailing to and from the principal ports: Bata via, the capital of the Indies; Soerabaja and Amboina, the main naval bases; the oil ports of Palembang in Sumatra, of Tarakan and Balikpapan in Borneo; Makassar, where each year about 7,000 clearances were issued to Indonesian sailing ships; and Singapore.$ In normal times the praus carry imported or locally manufactured goods from the larger ports to smaller places, and return with island produce. They are the only sea transports serving numerous small islands and coastal villages at which the interisland steamers and motor ships never call. Their cargoes range from jungle produce to textiles, metal tools, sewing machines, and old American and British newspapers shipped in tightly compressed bales to be used as wrapping paper or wallpaper (page 55). The soap you use may-in normal times have been made from copra produced by coco nut palms in a remote island of the Indies; and in partial return for providing you with soap, the Indonesian owner of the palms may have the pleasure of looking at American beauties portrayed in the social pages of a newspaper pasted on a wall of his house. Or it may be a sheet with no pictures but with an enormous headline about the Brook lyn Dodgers. Of course the Dodgers and their doings may be upside down, as the Indonesian neither knows nor cares which is the top. Many times I have bent down and twisted my head to read such an inverted newspaper, and have finished up in the most comfortable position for such reading-lying on my back on the floor, looking up at the paper over my head. Copra, Edible Birds' Nests, and Rattan Watching praus unload, you may see widely assorted cargoes come from their holds: rice, maize, and copra; rattans and rubber; coffee and tobacco; edible birds' nests; spices and trepang (beche-de-mer). They transport livestock, too; mostly horses and goats, for the Moslem faith of most Indonesian seafarers forbids them to take part in the pig trade. At times they find no cargo and have to sail in ballast, with tons of heavy stones or coral in their holds. The Mula Mulai was sailing in ballast. I was sorry for Hadji Badong's sake that this voyage would bring him no profit, but glad for my own, as I would have a good opportunity to see how his high-pooped ship behaved * See supplement map, "Southeast Asia and Pacific Islands, from the Indies and the Philippines to the Solomons," NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, October, 1944. t See "Around the World for Animals," by William M. and Lucile Q. Mann, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZINE, June, 1938. $ See "Behind the News in Singapore," NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, July, 1940, and "Singapore, Crossroads of the East," March, 1926, both by Fred erick Simpich; and "Fire-Walking Hindus of Singa pore," by L. Elizabeth Lewis, April, 1931; "Celebes: New Man's Land of the Indies," by Maynard Owen Williams, July, 1940.