Wera Sangiang Village – Buginese Sumbawa Phinisi Boat Builder Indonesia

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With its long, elegant bow, towering twin masts, streamlined wooden hull and billowing seven sails, the traditional Indonesian sailing boat known as a phinisi evokes a bygone era. Still built by hand in the traditional manner, these majestic sailing ships are a living spirit from the golden age of sail, which ended in the West in the early twentieth century, but still thrives in the waters of Indonesia.

Since the mid 19th century these boats have been designed and built by the Bugis, a seafaring people originating from the island of Sulawesi. The boats were originally used to carry cargoes across the shallow seas of the Indonesian archipelago. Following the monsoon winds, they sailed from island to island gathering exotic feathers, sandalwood, spices and gold to sell at a significant profit in distant ports like Singapore. After offloading their wares to eager merchants, they would fill their holds with European and Chinese manufactured goods to bring back to their homeland.

For centuries the Bugis plied these waters journeying as far away as Malacca, Burma, Vietnam and Australia in their two-masted ships. They were not only respected as master seafarers but the Bugis were also greatly feared as pirates. They often plagued early English or Dutch trading ships, namely those of the British East India Company and the Dutch East India Company. (the V.O.C.) It is popularly believed these encounters resulted in the European sailors bringing their fear of the “bugi men” back to their home countries. Even today, parents around the world may tell their children that if they misbehave, the “bogeyman” will get them.

But it’s not their pirating past that the Bugis best known for, but rather their skills as master shipbuilders. Wooden boat building expertise has been passed down from generation to generation, a knowledge that is further honed through daily practice with the help of each builders’ instincts and natural gifts. Phinisi vessels prove that Bugis tradition and culture have survived current technology and modernity.

Reliable transportation always at hand, the Bugis have migrated far across the archipelago, settling in Java, Kalimantan, Sumatra, Papua, and the Nusa Tenggara islands. The Bugis people have continued to build their phinisi on the beaches of their home in Sulawesi, and in their new settlements, provided sufficient wood is available. And so it is that in a small vlllage of Wera on Sumbawa island that the Sea Trek fleet and her passengers are treated to warm hospitality from the “Bogeyman” and an unforgettable encounter with their incredibly crafted pirate ship, the Phinisi.

Home of the Bugis Boat Builders – Wera, Sumbawa

With its long, elegant bow, towering twin masts, streamlined wooden hull and billowing seven sails, the traditional Indonesian sailing boat known as a phinisi evokes a bygone era. Still built by hand in the traditional manner, these majestic sailing ships are a living spirit from the golden age of sail, which ended in the West in the early twentieth century, but still thrives in the waters of Indonesia.

Since the mid 19th century these boats have been designed and built by the Bugis, a seafaring people originating from the island of Sulawesi. The boats were originally used to carry cargoes across the shallow seas of the Indonesian archipelago. Following the monsoon winds, they sailed from island to island gathering exotic feathers, sandalwood, spices and gold to sell at a significant profit in distant ports like Singapore. After offloading their wares to eager merchants, they would fill their holds with European and Chinese manufactured goods to bring back to their homeland.

For centuries the Bugis plied these waters journeying as far away as Malacca, Burma, Vietnam and Australia in their two-masted ships. They were not only respected as master seafarers but the Bugis were also greatly feared as pirates. They often plagued early English or Dutch trading ships, namely those of the British East India Company and the Dutch East India Company. (the V.O.C.) It is popularly believed these encounters resulted in the European sailors bringing their fear of the “bugi men” back to their home countries. Even today, parents around the world may tell their children that if they misbehave, the “bogeyman” will get them.

But it’s not their pirating past that the Bugis best known for, but rather their skills as master shipbuilders. Wooden boat building expertise has been passed down from generation to generation, a knowledge that is further honed through daily practice with the help of each builders’ instincts and natural gifts. Phinisi vessels prove that Bugis tradition and culture have survived current technology and modernity.

Reliable transportation always at hand, the Bugis have migrated far across the archipelago, settling in Java, Kalimantan, Sumatra, Papua, and the Nusa Tenggara islands. The Bugis people have continued to build their phinisi on the beaches of their home in Sulawesi, and in their new settlements, provided sufficient wood is available. And so it is that in a small vlllage of Wera on Sumbawa island that the Sea Trek fleet and her passengers are treated to warm hospitality from the “Bogeyman” and an unforgettable encounter with their incredibly crafted pirate ship, the Phinisi.

SHIPS OF WAR AND PEACE
A masterpiece of traditional Bugis-Makassar design, the Phinisi are a fascinating mix of ancient and modern.The first Phinisi ships are said to have been built after the example of the Dutch pinas (pinnace) introducedto the region by the V.O.C. around 1600. During the alliance with the Dutch colonialists, Phinisis were mainly used for transportation, fishing, and as trade ships. At the time of the Indonesian National Awakening, Phinisi were used by the Bugis as warships during the Indonesian struggle for independence. In this photo children walk on the black volcanic sands amongst the massive boats covered in thatch for shade.

AT ONE WITH WOODEN GIANTS
Owning beachfront property in Wera village means you might have some usual neighbors. The village homes along the beach are wedged between large wooden boats in various stages of construction. Once the craft is finished and put to sea, it’s only a matter of time before the empty stretch of beach left behind is filled with the makings of a new ship.

BUILDING WITOUT BLUEPRINTS
Without any sketches or calculations, Phinisi vessels are built traditionally in both method and equipment. The keel is laid first, then the stem and stern post are erected. However, unlike Western wooden ships where the shape of the boat is built by attaching wooden planks to a frame or mold, when building a Phinisi, the planking is assembled before the frame! From the keel upward, the planks are fit to each other using hand-drilled holes wooden dowels until the form of the boat is shaped. Amazingly, this is all done by “eye” without the use of plans or moulds but according to the experience of each master builder.

PHINISI PLAYGROUND
The boat and the sea is indeed a major part of philosophy, behavior, and everyday life of the Bugis people. This applies to playtime too! These village children know that well laid and smooth wooden planks not only make for a strong hull, but can double as an extra-wide slide.

THE FINAL TOUCHES
Made of Kayu Ulin, or Ironwood, Phinisis are known for being strong, but it pays to be cautious when navigating Indonesia’s notoriously tricky reefs. Up to this point, these boats have been constructed without a scrap of metal, but now hundreds of kilos of nails will be pounded into the hull to hold a layer of cement to the belly of the boat to protect it from those pesky little scrapes with rocks and reef.

PRECIOUS CARGO
The Bugis phinisi, wighing up to 200 tons still plays a vital role in traditional transport and inter-island trade today. The Bugis Pinisi carry all sorts of cargo from timber to cement, house tiles, rice, sugar, motorbikes and crates of cigarettes to sell these to islanders in the archipelago. Here a local girl plays on a phinisi construction sight, while the Ombak Putih, a phinisi in it’s finished form is moored in the bay.

READY TO ROCK AND ROLL
Constructing a basic phinisi for cargo purposes usually takes a few months to a year before the vessel can be used by the owner. This is an especially amazing timeframe considering there is often only one or two men working on the boat at a time! Although in the past the craft tended to be smaller, it is not uncommon these days to find a 30- 40 meter vessels under construction. The Ombak Putih and Katharina are good examples of the modern Bugis phinisi, possessing tall ketch rigs of seven sails, including two topsails and two tall masts that distinguish them from other traditional wooden boats in the country.

HEAVE!!! HO!!!
Congratulations! You have finally finished the long and tedious construction a beautiful phinisi, and now it’s time to set it afloat… but how? As you can imagine, moving a 200 ton goliath takes considerable planning and teamwork from the entire village. Wisely choosing an auspicious day with high tides, logs are laid perpendicular to the keel, and with a massive ”heave – ho!” the village men pull and roll the heavy structure out to sea. If the boat’s balance was established properly on the land, then it should float perfectly once launched into the water. Sighs of relief are followed by celebration as a new Phinisi begins it’s own story at sea.

SEA PEOPLE
Compared to the effort and orginization it takes to move a phinisi into the ocean, pulling a small perahu onto shore for the night seems realatively easy! In the shipbuilders’ kampung, or village, most people are skilled in building not only phinisis, but also various types of smaller wooden boats used for transportation and fishing. Although Wera is linked by inland roads to major cities like Bima, it seems the preferred method of travel in this sleepy coastal village is still by sea.

LIVING IN THE RING OF FIRE
Wera village lies on the Northeast tip of Sumbawa island, home to the largest and most devastating volcanic eruption ever recorded by mankind. In 1815, Mt. Tambora blew it’s top, blowing 36 cubic km of rock into the air. The disaster decimated the Sumbawan population, but by the middle of the 19th century immigrants from other island were brought to Sumbawa to help repopulate the island. As a result, today’s Sumbawa is a mix of different Indonesian ethnic divisions, including the Bugis people from Sulawesi.

MODERN FAITH MIXED WITH ANCIENT TRADITIONS
Although ethnically diverse, the vast majority of the Sumbawa population are devout Muslims. Like many of their Sumbawa neighbors, the Bugis converted to Islam from Animism, but still carry out animistic practices, and hold special ceremonies to protect themselves from disasters and evil spirits. When building a phinisi, many such rituals and ceremonies celebrate each stage of the construction, such as the all important laying of the keel.

SUMBAWA STYLE… ON STILTS
Most homes in Sumbawa are built up off the ground. Building one’s house on stilts serves a variety of functions: natural air conditioning, flood protection, pest control and storage for materials or livestock. In Sumbawa, homes of common people are called bale and homes of the upper class are called bala. Here, a boy meant to be taking his afternoon nap, is sneaking a peak of the neighborhood activities.

MASTER MARINERS
The pinisi is actually a larger version of local boats known as the perahu patorani and the padewakang. These mini pirate ships can be seen throughout the archipelago, distinguished not only by smaller size, but by their single mast and simpler rigging. These smaller boats are often used for local transport or by fisherman. Here a Wera villager makes repairs to his boat on the black sand beach, while still-active Sangeang volcano looms in the distance.

Source: http://www.seatrekbali.com/home-of-the-bugis-boat-builders-wera-sumbawa/

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