The homeland of the Bugis is the area around Lake Tempe and Lake Sidenreng in the Walennae Depression in the southwest peninsula. It was here that the ancestors of the present-day Bugis settled, probably in the mid- to late second millennium BC. The area is rich in fish and wildlife and the annual fluctuation of Lake Tempe (a reservoir lake for the Bila and Walennae rivers) allows speculative planting of wet rice, while the hills can be farmed by swidden orshifting cultivation, wet rice, gathering and hunting. Around AD 1200 the availability of prestigious imported goods including Chinese and Southeast Asian ceramics and Gujerati print-block textiles, coupled with newly discovered sources of iron ore in Luwu stimulated an agrarian revolution which expanded from the great lakes region into the lowland plains to the east, south and west of the Walennae depression. This led over the next 400 years to the development of the major kingdoms of South Sulawesi, and the social transformation of chiefly societies into hierarchical proto-states.
Most present-day Bugis now earn their living as rice farmers, traders or fishermen. Women help with the agricultural cycle and work in the homes. Some women still weave the silk sarongs worn on festive occasions by men and women.
Most Bugis live in stilted houses, sometimes three meters (9 ft) or more off the ground, with plank walls and floors. During growing seasons some family members may reside in little huts dispersed among the fields.
Many of the marriages are still arranged by parents and ideally take place between cousins. A newlywed couple often lives with the wife's family for the first few years of their marriage. Divorce is a fairly common occurrence, particularly when the married couple are still in their teens.
The Bugis' diet consists mainly of rice, maize, fish, chicken, vegetables, fruit and coffee. On festive occasions, goat is served as a special dish. Visual and performing arts, such as dance and recitations of epic poetry have largely been replaced by modern entertainments such as karaoke.
The Bugi culture also recognizes five separate genders that are necessary to keep the world in balance and harmony. These include makkunrai (feminine woman), calabai (feminine man), calalai (masculine female), oroané (masculine man), and bissu (embodying both male and female energies, revered as a shaman).
The Bugis converted from indigenous animistic practices and beliefs to Islam in the early 1600s. A few west coast rulers converted to Christianity in the mid-sixteenth century but failure by the Portuguese at Malacca to provide priests meant that this did not last. By 1611, all the Makasar and Bugis kingdoms had converted to Islam, though pockets of animists the Bugis To Lotang at Amparita and the Makasar Konja in Bulukumba persist to this day. Practices originating in the pre-Islamic period also survive, such as ancestor veneration and spirit possession. Though such practice are less inclined to be performed by the current generation as now most are educated in Islam.
The Bugis in the Maritime Southeast Asia
The conclusion in 1669 of a protracted civil war led to a diaspora of Bugis and their entry into the politics of peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra. Under the leadership of Daeng Parani, the descendants of two families settled on the Linggi and Selangor rivers and became the power behind the Johor throne, with the creation of the office of the Yang Dipertuan Muda (Yam Tuan Muda), or Bugis underking.
Respected as traders and sailors, and feared occasionally as adventurers and pirates, the seafarers of southern Sulawesi looked outwards, seeking their fortunes throughout the Indonesian archipelago. While trade was the seafarers' main goal, the Makasar, Bajau, and Bugis often set up permanent settlements, either through conquest or diplomacy, and marrying into local societies. However, their reputation as seafarers dates to after 1670; most Bugis were, and are, rice farmers.
Long before European colonialists extended their influence into these waters, the Makasar, the Bajau, and the Bugis built elegant, ocean-going schooners in which they plied the trade routes. Intrepid and doughty, they travelled as far east as the Aru Islands, off New Guinea, where they traded in the skins of birds of paradise and medicinal masoya bark, and to northern Australia, where they exchanged shells, birds'-nests and mother-of-pearl for knives and salt with Aboriginal tribes. The products of the forest and sea that they brought back were avidly sought after in the markets and entrepots of Asia, where the Bugis bartered for opium, silk, cotton, firearms and gunpowder.
The Bugis sailors left their mark and culture on an area of the northern Australian coast which stretches over two thousand kilometers from the Kimberley to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Throughout these parts of northern Australia, there is much evidence of a significant Bugis presence. There are the remains of Bugis buildings on islands, Bugis words have become part of the Aboriginal languages and Bugis men and their craft feature in the indigenous art of the people of Arnhem Land. Each year, the Bugis sailors would sail down on the northwestern monsoon in their wooden pinisi. They would stay in Australian waters for several months to trade and take trepang (or dried sea cucumber) before returning to Makassar on the dry season off shore winds. These trading voyages continued until 1907.[