Identification. Bonerate live on the island of Bonerate, which is situated in the middle of the Flores Sea in Indonesia. They call themselves "Orang Bonerate" and are referred to by the same term by their neighbors. Westerners have grouped them with both Bugis and Selayar people. They speak the Bonerate language and, according to official records, are all Sunni Muslim.
Location. Bonerate is situated at approximately 7° S and 121° E. The area belongs to the moist deciduous monsoon forest zone. The rainy season normally starts in the latter part of December and lasts through February. Showers also occur quite often in March and April. The rest of the year is dry, but occasional showers may appear any time. Bonerate, meaning "flat sands," has two minor hills, the higher of which reaches less than 200 meters above sea level. The island is formed from corals, is almost circular in shape, fringed by extensive reefs, and covers about 70 square kilometers. The soil is of poor quality. Where fields are cleared, seeds are sown between coral-limestones. There are no rivers or creeks, and water is a scarce resource during the dry season. Water for human consumption is fetched from village wells. During the dry season the water in the villages located close to the shore is often of poor quality and brackish.
Demography. The island's total population is approximately 5,500 (1978), which includes people of various origins and affiliations. The largest ethnic group is the Bonerate, who are regarded as descendants of the original population and early Butonese immigrants.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Bonerate language is spoken in all villages and is the language of local market communication. All over South Sulawesi, different languages have been in prolonged and often intimate contact with each other. This blurs the distinction between dialect and language. The reference to a Bonerate "language" is based on the knowledge that the tongues spoken on the neighboring islands and Bonerate are not mutually understandable. This does not mean, however, that the inhabitants of the different islands are unable to communicate verbally. First, Bonerate individuals master more than the local "language"; they are bi- and even trilingual. Second, a significant number of the islanders have some knowledge of Bahasa Indonesia (the national language) , which is also the language of the schools. According to Bonerate people, their language shares many similarities with Butonese. The Bonerate language has been included with the Muna-Butung Group.