Re-discovering ‘Marege’ – our unique Makassan maritime legacy

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Re-discovering ‘Marege’ – our unique Makassan maritime legacy

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Sulawesi

Sulawesi

Last October I visited Hasanuddin University, in Makassar, southwest Sulawesi — one of the myriad of islands in the archipelagic nation of Indonesia. Arriving on a weekend, my PhD student and I decided to explore the historic town of Gowa. We were particularly excited to visit the palace and tomb of the XVI King of Gowa, the Sultan Hasanuddin.

Amidst the tombs, fading photographs and royal costumes, we spotted an extraordinary map. It illustrated the boundaries of the “Gowanese kingdom and areas that accepted Gowanese sovereignty until 1660”. With Sulawesi at its centre, the kingdom clearly included the Top End of Australia. We were astonished to realise that, for the Makassans, the northern part of what is now the Northern Territory was considered part of the Gowanese or Makassan empire.

Original map of Gowanese or Makassan empire

Original map of Gowanese or Makassan empire

According to historian Dr Regina Ganter, the original map first appeared in a rare manuscript, a “A history of the kingdom of Gowa”, by Abdurrazak Daeng Patunru, Sedjarah Goa (Jajasan Kebudajaan Sulawesi Selatan dan Tenggara di Makassar, 1967). As many Territorians know, the Makassans, in search of the highly valued trepang (sea cucumbers), were regular visitors to northern Australia or ‘Marege’  for over 400 years. Yes, a whopping two centuries before the Flinders circumnavigation in 1803!  Not only did the lucrative trepang trade to Arnhem Land feature in the earliest British accounts of the northern coast of Australia, some historians suggest it clearly expedited (and rendered more urgent) the British claim over the whole continent.

And nowhere is the legacy of Makassans and their cultural impact on northern Australia more profound than with Indigenous Territorians, particularly the Yolngu of Arnhem Land. As Dr Ganter notes:

They [Makassans] were more than visitors, coming regularly to the same places, staying for several months or sometimes a whole year. They left imprints on the country and the people: they dug wells and erected dwellings and named places, some of which became adopted by Yolngu. They felt they had some claim on the country: they bestowed the title of daeng on some of the sea people of Arnhem Land, which became part of local names. The Yolngu understanding is that they planted abrus seed with the same symbolic significance as the Europeans planted flags. The cultural imprint on Yolngu people of this contact is everywhere: in their language, in their art, in their stories, in their cuisine. Family bonds continue to link these people, and the strength of connection is expressed by Yolngu people who say about the Macassans, “we are one spirit”.

Re-tracing the trading routes of the Makassan trepang fleets, Darwin was just recently visited by 6 six brave, seafaring students from Hasanuddin University (UNHAS). In a traditional 9m outrigger or sandeq, the students sailed from the port of Makassar to Darwin. Spending 20 days at sea, these courageous modern-day mariners crossed the Timor Sea (from Kupang to Darwin) in 5 days, surviving on a diet on noodles and coca-cola!

seafaring students from Hasanuddin University (UNHAS)

Seafaring students from Hasanuddin University (UNHAS)

Visiting Darwin to celebrate this intrepid voyage, the Rektor (Vice Chancellor) of Hasanuddin University, Professor Idrus Andi Paturusi, accompanied by a large delegation of academic staff , also used the occasion (his first visit to Darwin and the Northern Territory) to specifically explore and strengthen links with CDU, RIEL and marine researchers in the Northern Territory.

As Indonesia’s premier marine science university, UNHAS is playing a critical research and training role in addressing the many coastal and marine sustainability challenges facing Indonesia:   food security, biodiversity conservation, climate change, poverty reduction, effective governance and ecosystem-based management. Not surprisingly, UNHAS is also playing a central role in important regional marine conservation programs, such as the Coral Triangle Initiative. Following meetings with the Director of RIEL, Professor Andrew Campbell and CDU postgraduate students from Indonesia, it is clear that the Territory and CDU --with its strengths in tropical environments, Indigenous engagement, livelihoods, community-based management, tropical agriculture and health-- has many shared research and training interests with UNHAS, and much to offer.

Museum and Art Gallery of the NT

Museum and Art Gallery of the NT

One of the cultural highlights for the Makassan delegation, was a visit to the Maritime Museum at the Museum and Art Gallery of the NT. With the maritime curator, Paul Clark, we had the opportunity to view the outstanding watercraft collection and Makassan flags purchased recently by the museum. Over coffee, we discussed the many connections between Makassar and Darwin – particularly the Bugis, Makassan, Mandarese, Butonese, Bajo and Madura peoples (the Maritime peoples of Indonesia) and their connections with northern Australia. However, a major surprise and highlight of the museum visit for the UNHAS visitors was the discovery of the large sailing vessel or perahu - the ‘Hati Marege’ (the Heart of Northern Australia) – which sailed from Makassar to Darwin as part of the 1988 Bicentennial Celebrations, sponsored jointly by the museum and UNHAS.

Exchanging gifts

Exchanging gifts

After ‘whistle stop’ visits to the Arafura Timor Research Facility (the Territory’s developing marine science hub) and NT Wildlife Park (to view aquariums), the day finished with discussions and a renewal of friendship with the CDU Vice Chancellor Professor Barney Glover and the CDU International Office. We  started the day as acquaintances, but with so many cultural connections, by the end of the day it felt more like a large family gathering. As Professor Dadang Ahmad Suriamiharja (Vice Rector for Academic Affairs) said, "kami bagi air, kami bagi angin, dan kami bagi culture"--'we share water, we share wind and we share culture.'

Our visiting guests

Our visiting guests

Here at CDU and especially at RIEL, links and partnerships with Makassar and Hasanuddin University offer a wonderful opportunity to address some of the most pressing marine environmental challenges facing our region – and also, to build on a unique, shared, maritime and cultural heritage, spanning four hundred years.