Traditional sailing ships of the Bugis

Traditional sailing ships of the Bugis

The prows of pinisi rear up along the old harbour front at Sunda Kelapa in north Jakarta, Indonesia. Pinisi are a type of two-masted schooner built by the Konjo speaking peoples and used as cargo vessels by the Bugis seafarers of South Sulawesi.

Although most wooden sail boats in the region get called pinisi the name specifically referred to the organisation of the two main sails which were drawn out horizontally along a gaff half way up the mast. These would be supplemented by three foresails and two topsails. This arrangement evolved sometime in the early twentieth century though the hull designs can probably be traced back to the Arabian dhow. The ships come in a wide variety of sizes with the largest vessels capable of carrying up to 300 tons.

In the 1970s Indonesia’s pinisi constituted the world’s largest commercial sailing fleet. These days sails are rare. Modern pinisi are equipped motors and masts have been shortened or replaced entirely with cranes. But the name lingers and they are still used to transport cargo around the sprawling archipelago. Today that includes bringing timber and other rural and forest produce from Kalimantan, Sulawesi and West Papua to cities such as Jakarta and Surubaya. They return with groceries, cement and manufactured products.

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Pinisi are also built as leisure craft for dive operators and luxury cruises. It would indeed be pleasant to spend a while island hopping in the Indonesian archipelago with only the wind, the flap of the sails and the gentle rocking of the waves to disturb the peace.

The art of building Pinisi was recognised by Unesco as a masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage in December 7, 2017.

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