The epicenter of traditional shipbuilding industry in South-Sulawesi is in Tana Beru. However fast modernisations are strong, this village is still an ideal place to see skilled workers. In the bantilang (boathouses) at the beach, you can find hundreds of boats.
Several different types of boats are build: pajala, fishing boats with a length of nine to ten meters; patorani, ten to 18 meters long with a deck and used for fishing at open seas; paduwakang, a big version of the patorani with an upper deck (ambeng) and a lower front deck. These boats are used for longer trips. The most well-known and beautiful ships from this area are the pinisi. These slender Buginese schooners, 30 meter or longer, are doomed to disappear because of their high cost of production.
Most ships are motorised nowadays, but fishing boats and some bigger ships are still build according to strict traditional rules.
Plans, marriage and construction
Before starting to built a ship, the panrita lopi of master-shipbuilder draws the ship after a night of thinking. He has to take into account a number of factors: the available wood, size and shape of the ships, the classical building patterns and his own family traditions.
The width of the hand of the future owner is decisive for the size of the keel. That part is measured hand-over-hand while reciting the five pre-destinations like "she loves me, she doesn't". These pre-destinations are: dead on land, being stolen, finding fortune, sink at full sea and bring joy. A good pre-destination on the right place is used to determine the final length of the ship after which construction can start.
Creation of the keel is an important event. The three parts of the original keel are put together with a telang-lasso (vagina-penis) connection. The 'marriage' is then sealed with several rituals in the bantilang. On the keel, on the exact place of the first marks, a meal of rice-flower, coconut and red sugar is placed. This umba-umba has a special meaning: "that which keeps on rising" - the umba-umba floats when it is boiling. Sailors see this as: "sinking before floating makes a good ship!". Other sacrifices follow, depending on the function of the ship.
The first ceremonies form the start of weeks of hard work. It can take upto six or eight weeks to produce a boat hull with a length of nine meters. A pinisi needs months of work from a dozen of people. When building a bigger ship, whole families are involved if possible, but men are also building ships themselves. One skilled man can build a perahu in about 14 months.
Traditionally the outher wood of the hull is fixed together before the beams on the inside are connected. The symmetriy of the hull is the most dificult part of the construction. Wood is connected by pegs of mangrove wood. The beams are also connected with pegs. A layer of tree bark and rubber seal of the hull, after which the outside is processed with a bingkung, a square pole.
Sailing to the future
On the evening before the ship is released, there is a party on the ship. Waterbuffalo's, goats and chicken are sacrificed and eaten to hundreds of guests. A bigger number of guests is said to bring more good luck.
Several rituals are performed in the space of the ship. The most important one is creating the magic 'belly-button' of the ship in which first blood of chicken is put on the spot after which a dedicated person makes a hole. Gold dust is flown through the hole, which is caught by the children of the shipbuilder. The belly-button is then temporarily sealed with umba-umba and haje (sweet black rice). The next day all guests return to the ship and help it get it to sea. Men pull the ship in the water while the women poor rice. Kids shout; and elderly oversee the event. Sometimes people sing and dance.
In the 1970's the workers of Tana Beru were tested strongly because of upcoming motorisation. Most motorised pinisi were dead after three years. Shipbuilders now use steal bolts and more stronger wood but sailors didn't stop complaining about the short lifespan of the motorised ships. Instead of 60 years, many boats only got to eight.
Nowadays half of the ships in Tana Beru are sold to other islands, and ritual festivities are rare. Electrical tools are commonly used while a government project encourages the use of modern glue and paint. The shipbuilding industry in South-Sulawesi has evolved into a modern company and it's feared that the current generation of panrita lopi are the last ones in a centuries-old heiritage.