Explore Bugis Culture

10/13/2017 5:02:47 PM
written By : Team India Se Print

When you think of Bugis the first thought that comes to mind is the bustling shopping district, rows of restaurants, the Sultan Mosque and the Malay Heritage Centre.

In a bold initiative, the Malay Heritage Centre has recently unveiled the latest exhibition and CultureFest tracing the history and traditions of the Bugis community. Titled, Sirri na Pesse: Navigating Bugis Identities in Singapore, the exhibition relates little-known stories of the Bugis people in Singapore, as well as the unique traditions that journeyed with them from their ancestral homeland in South Sulawesi, and how they are manifested in the modern context of Singapore today.  

Curated by Suhaili Osman and Nasri Shah, the Bugis community was known for being both notorious and daring seafarers. On the one hand they were known to be pirates and thus stigmatised as bogeyman while on the other they were traders who had a strong influence over the Sultanate of Johar.

The culture of the Buginese people have had many influences including, Hindu, Sino, Islamic and colonial. The exhibition features various artifacts that highlight this such as an antique Makassarese brass chest that has Chettinad traits, the Naga bracelet influenced by Hinduism, a brass caping (modesty plate) with Chinese characters worn by children under the age of 5 to ward off evil spirits or the Buginese script that was influenced by the Arabs.

But what was most interesting and progressive was the acceptance by the ancient Bugis of five gender identities, making current societal attitudes appear almost regressive. These were Makkunrai (masculine male), calabai (masculine female), oroane (feminine female), calalai (masculine femaile) and bissu (androgynous person). Of particular interest to Indians will likely be this acceptance of multiple gender identities which appear to have a strong link to ancient Hindu traditions where, sometimes, even Gods manifested a dual male-female power.

“Gender in the Bugis community was not viewed in binary categories but rather comprises fluid configurations of masculine and feminine bodies and behaviours. This was accepted and the bissu was seen as a conduit that connects the seen and unseen worlds,” said Osman.

Historians and visitors will no doubt find strong echoes in Hinduism where there are diverse approaches to conceptualizing God and gender. Many Hindus focus upon impersonal Absolute Brahman which is genderless. Other Hindu traditions conceive God as androgynous (Ardhanarisvara), alternatively as either male or female, while cherishing gender henotheism that is without denying the existence of other Gods in either gender.

The exhibition also has a special activity area and kit for children, musical performances, talks and heritage trail walks to keep the public engaged.

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