Butonese - Orientation

Identification. Before 1960 the people living in the sultanate of Buton were called Butonese. To this sultanate belonged the main islands of Buton (Butuni or Butung), Muna, and Kabaena, the Tukangbesi Islands and two regions on the southeastern part of the island of Sulawesi (Rumbia and Poleang). In 1960 the more-than-four-centuries-old sultanate was dissolved and the two already existing regencies ( kabupaten ) were fully incorporated in the Indonesian nation. The kabupaten of Muna is in the northern parts of Muna and Buton, and the kabupaten of Buton comprises the other parts of the former sultanate. This means that it is difficult to designate exactly who the Butonese are. It depends on time and situation. Today, most of the people of Muna will not accept being called Butonese.

Location. The area of the former sultanate is located between 4° and 6° S and 122° and 125° E. The total area is 11,300 square kilometers. The islands are formed from raised coral reefs, and are rather mountainous. Clayey plains are especially found in north and east Muna, northeast Buton, and Rumbia. The easterly monsoon is from May to December and the westerly monsoon from December to April.

Demography. In 1878 the population of the sultanate of Buton was estimated at 100,000; in 1980, the population of both kabupaten together was estimated at 491,144 (316,759 in Buton, 174,385 in Muna). The population density was about 44 per square kilometer and the population must be growing at the rate of about 2 percent per year.

Linguistic Affiliation. The language situation is complicated. Two main groups of languages can be distinguished: the Bungku-Mori Group, which is closely related to the languages of southeast Sulawesi, is used on the island of Kabaena, in the north and northeast of Buton, and in the area of Rumbia/Poleang on the mainland of Sulawesi, and the Buton-Muna Group is used in the other part of the former sultanate. To the latter group belong four languages or subgroups of languages. The first is the Wolio language. Wolio is the language spoken in the center of the former sultanate by the nobility ( kaomu ) and the second estate ( walaka ), who lived mainly in the center (Kraton Wolio), and some villages in the neighborhood. It is still spoken in that area, including the present capital of the kabupaten, Baubau. The total number of Wolio speakers does not surpass 25,000. The second language of this group is the Muna language spoken on Muna and the northwest coast of Buton. The third is the subgroup of south (east) Buton, and the fourth is the subgroup of the languages of the Tukangbesi Islands. All these languages belong to the Indonesian Branch of Austronesian. Formerly only Wolio, for which Arabic characters were used, was a written language. It is falling into disuse as a written language because the schools now teach the national Indonesian language using roman characters.


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