The four big ethnic groups (Buginese, Makasarese, Toraja and Mandarese) speak related languages, but can't understand eachother. The Buginese and Toraja languages are closely related and have many words incomon, while Mandarese and Makasarese are less closely related. Each language has dozens of dialects, of which many of them are connected to the old kingdoms.
The several milion Buginese (or Bugis) form the biggest population of SulSel. Most live in the central area of the peninsula, among that the remote and fertile plain between Pinrang and Watampone. However they are seen as one of the most decidated muslems, most of the Buginese, as well as theyr Mandarese and Makasarese bothers, cling on to some older, pre-islamic habits.
The Makasarese, which count several million as well, have close cultural relations with the Buginese. Their habitat is generally less fertile (except the very productive soil around Maros) and they depend more on the sea for life support.
The Mandarese are culturally close to the Buginese as well. About half a milion of them live in the less hospitable northwestern part of the peninsula. In contrary to the more prosperous Buginese and Makasarese populations, which have better soil, the Mandarese never developped extensive and centralised kingdoms, but they lives in relative autonomous villages.
The Toraja inhabit the northern part of the peninsula, where they are scattered over a large and hard terrain. They are devided in several sub-groups, among them the Sa'dan, Rongkong, Seko, Mamasa and Mangki. About half a milion Toraja live in the central highlands (Tana Toraja), while several hundred thousand live in the cities of the lowlands. Because their area is mountainous, the Toraja have insufficient space for wet rice agriculture to feed the population; many live from the cultivation of coffee, rice and sago.
The Buginese and Makasarese social life is branded by a strongly formatted class structure. The precolonial society was devided into nobility, civilians and slaves. However the nobility tried to maintain this division, approved young men could be accepted into a higher class by marriage.
A job on a high level, like government servant (pegawai negeri) is strongly desired by the Buginese. In contrary to Javanese they see trade and business not as professions with a low classification. For centuries the Buginese were known as traders, pirates and colonists throughout the entire archipelago. One governor of Singapore described them as 'one of the most modern populations.. and the most active of all local populations in the archipelago'. Now they are still seen as one of the most endeavouring and direct populations of Indonesia.
The Toraja have little cultural ties with the Buginese, Makasarese and Mandarese. Because the Toraja live in the remote highlands, they didn't get into contact with the European merchants and islamic teachters which influenced the coasts and the lowlands. Only in the 19th century Dutch missionaries made contact with the Toraja. Since then 60 percent has become Catholic and almost 8 percent of them muslem. The remaining Toraja, mainly elderly, are still supporters of the aluk to dolo, the traditional religion.
Most people in SulSel live in villages. Relations and marriage show big similarities to Western patterns: individuals both belong to the family of the mother as to the family of the father, and a married couple lives in their own house. The relation between father and son is kind of formal. Brothers, which have the same status, are often big rivals. In the Chronic of Tanere, a little kingdom along the western coast, it told that the ongoing fights between brothers were the cause that their father was looking for someone to ascend the throne after him in the neighboring Segiri.
Mothers and daughters have a more close relation, but the best is the relation between brothers and sisters. According to the Buginese and Makasarese the brother is a protector and guardian of his sister. This is an important theme in the Buginese epic poem I La Galigo, which tells about the separation of Sawerigading and his twin sister Wé Tenriabéng. A girl is the symbol of the honour of the family. In earlier days, even a co-incidental meeting between a girl and a guy could lead to severe consequences; the habit demanded that the brother of the girl vengeanced to kill the guy. In the tragic poem I La Padoma, the hero La Padoma is killed by the brother of his love, which catches them in a sleeping room. Even nowadays a male visitor caughs upon entering a house sometimes, to give young women the chance to retreat.
Most Makasarese and Buginese girls between three and seven years old are, following islamic traditions, subjected to clitoridectomy and pearcing the ears. Boys are circumcised between their tenth and fifteenth. The festivity that comes with the operation is often very large, especially in the higher classes. The filing and blackening of the upper teeth is a habit that dates back several hundred years; it used to be for both genders at the start of puberty, but not anymore.
Most marriages are arranged by the parents of the couple, often with the help of a respected elderly. There is a strong favour for marriages with relatives; the ideal marriage is between a full niece and cousin, but marriages between cousins with one generation difference is more often. In the competitive and status-aware communities of South-Sulawesi, an ambitious young man with an aggressive personality is the ideal partner. A girl is expected to have the complemental personality: obedient and timid. Nowadays more youngsters pick partners by themselves. When a couple doesn't get permission from their parents, they tend to get out.
Rivalty between ethnical groups takes place everywhere. The Makasarese for example are hot-headed bad farmers and doubtfull muslems in the eyes of the Buginese. The inhabitants of Jeneponto are the target of numerous jokes. Buginese like to point at the fact that Tana Toraja was the area where the slaves used to come from, and that many Toraja nowadays work as servants in Makasar.