The Bugis Pinisi Schooner

In Southern Suluwesi, traditional boat builders still make wooden sailing ships the same way that they have been doing so for hundreds of years. These boats are called pinisi, or Phinisi schooners. They are made by the Bugis boat builders on the beaches of Southern Suluwesi in the Bulukumba area, at places like Tanah Beru. You can find an agent to help you build a bugis pinisi schooner in Ujung Pandang (Makassar).

You will need to find yourself a master boat builder. Go to Tanaberu and look around the beach. Along the beach there may be up to fifty boats being constructed along the palm lined beach of this seashore village. Southern Suluwesi is one of the most famous areas for traditional boat building. They make cargo boats for the still sailing commercial fleets of pinisi schooners that carry goods all across the Indonesian Archipelago. Go to Surabaya harbour or Sunda Kelapa in Jakarta and you will see hundreds of sails of these pinisi schooners loading and unloading produce to trade all around the islands.

The boat builder of the traditional pinisi bugis schooner lays down the keel first. The keel is made from two black Irian Jaya ironwood tree trunks. The keel is probably about seventeen meters long, sixty centimeters thick , and sixty centimeters wide. With the keel laying it is necessary to do a traditional keel laying ceremony. There used to be wild teak and ironwood forests in Southern Suluwesi but these have long gone. So timber has to be imported and many boat builders have followed the timber to places like Batucilin in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Even these areas are running out of wood and the boat builders have had to move further afield in Kalimantan to follow the supply of wood.

Instead of putting in the frame first, the Bugis boat builders lay the keel first and then the skin. The hull planks (which are typically about eight centimeters thick) are pegged together with their edges adjoining and one after the other. These ships therefore do not rely for their ribs for their strength. A typical Bugis pinisi schooner will be about eight meters wide and thirty four meters long. But building a Bugis pinisi schooner is not a short project. Building one can take up to a year, so you need to have lots of patience and succumb to “jam caret”.

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