The province of Central Sulawesi (Sulteng) is a confusing mix of high , forested, mountain ranges in which it rains almost every day. Still, the most fertile area, the Palu valley, is one of the most dry areas in Indonesia with an average rainfall between 40 and 80 cm. At a distance of a few minutes from coconut tree forests and wet rice fields you can find cacti fields with empty rivers, where meager cows are looking for something to eat.
Religious contrasts are also easy to find. Dozens of relatively isolated groups scattered over the highlands west of Palu, east of Ampana and along the mountain range of the northern peninsula, support religions in which shamanism plays a role. The Dutch reformed church and the Salvation Army have realized a limited amount of conversions, but over 75 per cent of the population is Moslem. This percentage is even higher in the densely populated coastal areas and the valleys, where the traders, farmers and fishers of Buginese, Mandarese and Gorontola origin brought Islam when they settled there.
Geologically, the province forms a splendid mosaic. Volcanic activities and landslides, from which the island is created, left behind a network of rivers, valleys and craters which later became rivers, lakes and high plains. With a size of 68033 square kilometers, about the size of Ireland, this is the biggest of the provinces in Sulawesi. The area was seen as one single province for administrative reasons, but only forms a vague geographical unity. Communication still is quite difficult in an area ruled by mountains.
Forest cover over sixty percent of the land; over 90 percent of the income is generated from the exports of wood. Between many points along the shore, traveling by boat is often still faster than by road, even by highway. Even with a population of several million, the population density is just over 20 per square kilometers. Above all, up to 90 percent lives in the coastal regions, the highlands are very low populated. Many villages can only be reached over horse tracks and paths. This causes the social and cultural life to be very diverse. Groups that live close to each other sometimes speak completely different languages and have different habits.
However a big part of Central Sulawesi is still quite isolated, the Indonesian government, Islam and Christianity have given the area some unity. Even the inhabitants of the most remote villages have heard or seen something from the development programs of the government. The diversity of this much closed area is gradually broken down by a flood of traders and civil servants. Work, like making tree bark fabric, is decreasing and baskets and mats are replaced by plastic baskets and vinyl flooring.
Still, Central Sulawesi is culturally one of the most varied provinces. Government publications name a dozen ethnical groups with two dozen separate languages. A trip through Sulteng gives you the possibility to see some kind of micro cosmos of multicultural 'Indonesian experience' in a small area. The rough nature is perfect for the adventurous traveler which speaks some Indonesian, has enough time and patience.