Sulawesi is located east of Borneo, west of Maluku and has a common border with the Philippines to the north. The odd shape of the island naturally divides it into four provinces; South, Southeast, Central and North Sulawesi. The coastline is totally 5.630 km and the area about 189.070 sq. km. Highest mountain is Rantekombola, stretching to an altitude of 3.455 m above sea level.
Unlike the other regions of Indonesia there are few active volcanoes here, just a few on the north east and south east parts.Another characteristic feature is the hilly landscape with slopes and plains at various altitudes, most at an elevation of 500 m or higher. Sulawesi is surrounded by deep waters, the Sulawesi sea north of the island is approx. 6.200 m deep.
The wet season normally lasts from November to April, in the central and northern parts the rain is more evenly spread during the whole year. The driest part are the southeast. The climate and temperature also varies a lot between lowland and highland.
Flora and fauna:
The tropical and varied landscape has created an unique plant and animal diversity with many species that only exist on Sulawesi. Examples are babirusa (wild pig), cuscus, sapiutan (wild cow), tailless baboon and many bird species. A number of national parks and reserves have been established, some open for visitors. Sulawesi is a central part of Wallacea, the transitional zone between the Asian and Australian wildlife (see also Lombok, Maluku and Nusa Tenggara). The marine life is no less varied, and on Sulawesi you can find species that you will not see anywhere else. Divers from all over the world come here to experience the unique underwater landscape and fauna.
People and Religion:
The islands population are about 13 million. Much because of the complex topography there are many different ethnic groups, and some 50 different languages are spoken on Sulawesi. The largest ethnic groups are Bugis in the south, Toraja in central Sulawesi and Minahasa in the north. Most of the southern population are Muslim, despite the late arrival of Islam in the 17th century. The small tribes in the central region still hold on to their old, traditional religions. The most famous group here is Toraja, known for their unique funerals and offerings. In north Sulawesi a majority of the population are Christian, influenced by missionaries from nearby Philippines that have worked here since the 15th century.
Major income on Sulawesi is agriculture and fishing. Some of the products exported from the region are spice, fruit, maize, rice, tobacco, coffee and sugar. There is also some mining industry here, mainly for gold, copper, tin and diamonds.
There have been modern humans on the island for thousands of years, the first immigrants were probably of Mongolian origin. The strategic location of Sulawesi has led to frequent contact and trade with other regions of Asia, mainly China, India, Thailand, Java and later also with Europeans. Sulawesi was formerly known as Celebes, a name given by the Portuguese who came here as the first Europeans in 1512. Spanish missionaries arrived to the northern parts from the Philippines not long after.
Gowa, the first significant power on Sulawesi started to expand about 1530 AD. Their capital was Makassar, previously known as Ujung Pandang. Makassar was a busy port and center for the trade in the eastern parts of the Indonesian archipelago. Between 1608 and 1611 Gowa attacked Bone, the rival kingdom on South Sulawesi ruled by the Bugis people. Bone was defeated and controlled by Gowa and Islam was spread to all of South Sulawesi.
The Minahasa people on North Sulawesi never developed a large empire. In 670 AD the leaders of the different tribes, who all spoke different languages, met by a stone known as Watu Pinabetengan. There they founded a community of independent states, who should stay together and fight any outside enemies if they were attacked. The Minahasian people also had strong ties to the Sultanate on Ternate.
Later the Dutch managed to close out the other European nations here and gained some sort of control of Sulawesi. Full control with all the districts on Sulawesi was however not established until the 19th century. A riot among the Bugis was stopped in 1906, in 1905 the Toraja district was occupied. North Sulawesi came under Dutch rule in 1870. The Japanese occupation during World War II lasted from 1942-45. After an intermediate war with the Netherlands Celebes, which was the official name of Sulawesi at that time, the island became a part of the new Republic of Indonesia.
Art and culture:
The most famous culture on Sulawesi are perhaps Toraja with their colorful and unique funeral ceremonies. Also the rest of Sulawesi can offer colorful festivals, and the large number of cultures all have their different forms of dance, music, art and crafts.
The name Sulawesi probably origins from “sula” which means island and “besi” which means iron, probably referring to the rich sources of iron around Danau Matano. The most important hubs for transportation are Ujung Pandang and Manado, which both have good connections to the rest of Indonesia. There has been religious unrest between Christians and Muslims around Poso in Central Sulawesi lately, so you should check the local conditions before you go to that particular area.
- North Sulawesi Information Pages travel info, flight and boat schedules
- north-sulawesi.com tourist info
- www.north-sulawesi.org North Sulawesi Tourism Promotion