101 La Galigo Featured Liputan

Bugis of Sabah: A Story of Migration

This writing is based on the author interview with Mohd Safar Abdul Halim, the third generation of Bugis migrant in Sabah, Malaysia. The Bugis community are best known as sailors, fishermans, merchants and also paid warriors to fight against the pirates of the Sulu Sea by the Sultanate of Sulu. They once also known as “the most energetic and successful cultivator of coconuts” in Tawau. The strong nature of family relationship in Bugis culture has made them one of the most-closely-connected-to each other ethnic group in eastern part of Malaysia. This is the story of their preservation toward ancestor’s tradition, although separated thousand miles away from their original homeland in South Sulawesi, Indonesia.

The Bugis people started to migrate to Tawau, Sabah in 1880. They decided to sail and settle in Sabah because the region was rich of potentials such as fertile soil for farm, and also British Petroleum Company and Japanese lodging company that require a lot of labor. It is known that wherever the Bugis people took abode, the surrounding area will be profited by their creativity to open businesses. The Bugis then hold important place in the economic life of Sabah, they even created job field for the locals. The new generation of Bugis in Sabah has enjoyed the benefit of education by government, many of them are studying until university level. They even hold significant role in the state’s ministries. A lot of the Bugis people in Sabah nowadays are already mixed through marriages with local people such as Dusun, Murut, Iban, Kadazan, and others.

The Bugis who’s migrated to Sabah brought a set of adat law and traditions. The Bugis of Sabah really take a great care of their traditional values, which can be seen from the way they embraces the system of pangaderreng such as adeq, wari, siriq, rappang, and saraq. It is important for Bugis-Sabah that their well-educated children should be raised and adorned with those values. Although lately not so many Bugis generations undersand the philosophy of their traditions, they still perform it, out of respect, to their parents.

Some important cultural expressions related to daily life are still performed by Bugis of Sabah. Important traditional ceremony such as maccera tasiq and mendeq bola is still widely celebrated. This tradition is seen as a way to strengthen their identity. Moreover, these ceremonies become cultural attraction that invite people from different ethnic group in Sabah to come and enjoy the proceedings. Another cultural element that could still be traced from Bugis of Sabah is the preservation of traditional culinary. Dishes such as  burasa, burasa koa, burasa pulu, sokko, palopo, bilundra. ketupat pulut, tumbu, masak likku, tapai, beppa sawalla, bandang-bandang, bandang mallojo, barongko, baulu pecak, katiri salah. kuek bangkek, barobbo and others. Those dishes show uniqueness of Bugis culture, which is very much appreciated by the locals.

Bugis family in Sabah

Although not so many of them lasted with the ability to speak Bugis language anymore, they are still curious and longing to see long-distance relatives from Indonesia. They see their preserved culture as identity to strengthen brotherhood with the Indonesians, especially people of South Sulawesi.