Bugis - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Almost all Bugis adhere to Islam, but there is great variety in the types of Islam practiced. Most Bugis identify themselves as Sunni Muslims, but their practice, influenced by Sufi tenets, is a syncretic blend that also includes offerings to spirits of ancestors and deceased powerful personages. However, reformist Islamic organizations, especially Muhammadiyah, have gained many adherents in some areas and have established their own educational institutions. The I La Galigo literature preserved in ancient manuscripts ( lontara' ) describes a cosmology involving an upper-world and an underworld, each of seven layers, and a host of heavenly beings from whom nobles trace descent, but knowledge of details of this literature is not widespread among commoners. The To Lotang, a group of non-Muslim Bugis in Sidrap regency, continue to adhere to an indigenous belief system based on the lontara' and similar to that of the Toraja to the north, but has had to affiliate with the national Hindu movement to retain legitimacy as a religion. The extent to which Hindu-Buddhist notions have influenced Bugis religious and sociopolitical notions is currently a matter of debate.

The I La Galigo literature presents a pantheon of deities ( dewata ) from whom nobles trace descent, but contemporary Bugis argue that this literature basically recognizes a single great God ( Dewata Seuwa é ) in accord with the monotheism of Islam. Despite this, some of the other deities (e.g., the rice goddess) are still given offerings, even by Muslims. Village Bugis also recognize a panoply of local spirits associated with the house, the newborn, and sacred sites; they are variously termed "the ethereal ones" ( to alusu' ), "the not-to-be-seen" ( to tenrita ), "evil spirits" ( sétang ), etc. In fact, every object is thought to have its own animating spirit ( sumange' ), whose welfare must be catered to in order to insure good fortune and avert catastrophe.

Religious Practitioners. In addition to Islamic judges ( kali ), imams serve as local leaders of the Muslim community; they conduct Friday worship services, deliver sermons, and preside at marriages, funerals, and local ceremonies sanctioned by Islam. Small numbers of transvestite priests ( bissu ), traditionally the guardians of royal regalia, still, though rarely, perform rituals involving chants in a special register of Bugis directed to traditional deities recognized in the lontara'. Curing and consecration ceremonies are conducted by sanro, practitioners with arcane knowledge and expertise in presenting offerings and prayers to local spirits.

Ceremonies. Besides the celebration of calendric Islamic holidays (Lebaran, Maulid, etc.), Bugis of syncretic orientation perform many domestic consecration ceremonies ( assalamakeng ) involving offerings to local spirits, guardians of the house, supernatural siblings of the newly born, and other such spirits. Some districts and regencies also sponsor festivals marking planting and harvesting, although some of these have become more civic spectacles than religious celebrations. Especially among nobles, weddings are major occasions for the display of status and often involve presentations of local culture, including processions. The bissu rituals, however, increasingly are restricted and performed without large audiences.

Arts. Regional dances (e.g., padendang ) are still performed at some ceremonies for the harvest and other occasions, as well as at government-sponsored festivals, but some (e.g., bissu dances) are now rarely performed. Young men enjoy practicing Indonesian martial arts ( pencak silat ) and the traditional sport of maintaining a woven rattan ball ( raga ) in the air with one's feet and other body parts, excluding the hands. Traditional Bugis houses still abound, and are used as the basis of modern architectural designs, but figurative art is meager in keeping with Islam. Bugis music is also heavily influenced by Middle Eastern models. Music performed on flute ( suling ) and lute ( kacapi ) similar to that in West Java is common. Epic songs of traditional and contemporary martial heroes are still composed and performed, even on radio. Amulets, especially of Middle Eastern origin, are in demand, while Bugis badik, daggers with characteristically curved handles, are prized heirlooms. Gold ornaments and gold-threaded songket cloths are paraded at weddings. Royal regalia are now on display in some local museums.

Medicine. While Western medicine has made inroads with the government-established rural medical health centers ( puskesmas ), many illnesses are seen as specifically Bugis and curable only by indigenous practitioners ( sanro ) who use such techniques as extraction of foreign objects, massage, use of bespelled or holy water, and blowing on the patient after the utterance of prayers. Illness may be due to one's spirit leaving the body when subjected to sudden shock, and certain therapies are directed to its recovery. Invulnerability magic is much prized, with the shadow playing an important protective role. Certain illnesses and misfortunes are inflicted by specific spirits associated with each of the four major elements—fire, air, earth, and water.

Death and Afterlife. Islamic notions of heaven and hell are now most influential, although among syncretic Bugis local spirits are still identified as the spirits of deceased rulers and other formerly powerful individuals. Funerals follow Islamic rites, and are not occasions for major redistributions, as among the neighboring Toraja. Memorial gatherings for prayer and a shared meal may be performed at such intervals as forty days after a death.

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