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Mixture of influences from oversea

Mandar is a little known and little visited area of fishermen, sailors and shipbuilders. The traveller has to overcome bad roads, sand and rocks on the road from Parepare to the north to get there. Stalls with kapok and coconut trees, dusty villages, and every once in a while a shiny look at Selat Makassar, and lightly colored houses in Buginese style decorate the trip.
The Mandarese culture is a complex mixture of influences from overseas, especially islam, which was introduced in the 17th century. The local ritual life reflects the rich diversity of cosmological thoughts. A strong belief in islam is going together with old Indian habits; at ceremonies around birth, healing and ships sailing for the first time, forehead, hands and belly-button are rubbed with mixtures of herbs and riceflower. The local belief in local protectors, supernatural beings and spirits of flying fish hasn't died out. Life in Mandar is focussed on Selat Mansar and it's abundance of fish on one side and harvesting from the land on the other side. Hand pressed coconut oil of high quality and woven sarungs made from silk are produced here as well.
Until thw 1930's, wind-propelled Mandarese freighters left from the village of Luaor, close to Majene (capital of the district), to far islands in the eastern part of the archipelago: Morotai, Ternate, Tidore. The sailors did good business in Makassar with the bought goods like tobacco, plates and Mandarese rope. Six months later the monsoon winds brought them back with clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, turtle-meat and shields, copra and chicken. For many older fishermen the ocean is a kingdom, ruled by spirits which control whirlpools, currents, waves, weather and wind. These ghosts also control the faith of humans at sea; they decide whether the fishermen return from their trips at sea and if any fish is being caught. The flying fish is seen as a heavenly creature, empowered to oversee everthing that happens. Foreign markets stimulate the Mandarese to reconsidder their ideas about the world of the sea. The demand for fish-, shell- and seafood products has been stimulating development of new industries like shrimp-eggs, shark-meat and -fins, agar-agar and tuna.

Visit to Majene

Majene, the capital of kabupaten Mandar, is a nice smal city along a bay. As well as the rest of Mandar it's not made for tourists. Don't try to spend the night in the neighboring villages, because that can cause troubles with the police. In Majene are several, somewhat gloomy guesthouses (penginapan). Take enough musquito-repellent with you. A good alternative is the pretty and well-located harbor house of Ibu Darmi Mas'ud along Jl. Amanna Wewnag 12. The warung in Jl. Syukun Rahin is the best location for a lunch: the food tastes good.
Walk along the seawall in the morning, a place of bustling activity when the fishermen return. At eight in the morning the seawall is flooded by women, sisters, aunts and other relatives of the fishermen which receive the tuna and maccerel, sort them and prize them. Yelling loud, they sell them to the merchants which come on foot, by becak or motorbike.
In the afternoon you can walk towards the north along the seawall and turn left when you see a green-white mosque. It's a densely populated village of fishermen and civil servants.

Past the last house you can follow a path that runs toward the fierce, windy lower mountains. Pass a stone wall on your way to the fishery village of Cilalang, where the the dome-shaped roof of the mosque shines in the sun. High prahu sande with white sails, lay in the water like elegant spiders.
After Cilalang the trip goes towards the right until the old graveyard in Odongan, a place that has been restored by the department of historic remains. On thigh high mountain range are more than 600 graves, some of them date back from before the arrival of islam in the 17th century. Many are decorated with complicated, inscripted signs in the form of a woman's body with the hands on her hips, bird shapes or cylindric fallistic shapes. The southern edge of the graveyard offers a panoramic view over Majene and the harbor with the bago fleet moored, on the hills and mountains of Mamasa-Toraja, and on the remote Selat Makassar.
On the road towards Salabose, you can visit even older graveyards. Here, in the hills above Majene, there is a circle of worn gravestones, which remind of the menhirs of rememberance (simbuang batu) of Toraja. This circle of stones on a holy stretch of land is evidence of the pre-islamic history of Mandar and it's relation to the local religions of the hinterland.
Salabose has a smaller, more messy burial site than the one in Odongan. Here you can also find engraved stone graves, as well as recent ones that are covered in yellow and pink tiles. In contrary to Odongan this site is still in use. It's a nice place, where jasmin grows. The grave of Syekh Abdul Manan is located in a building. He is said to have brought islam from Mecca to Mandar. Families visit his grave for blessings and to ask for favours and to stick to promises.

Hunt for silk

Back in Majene you can have a stroll over the market for fresh fish, fruit and an abundance of silk fabrics. However Mandarese weaving is not improving, you can still find very good silk sarungs in all kinds of designs. Flowers in many different colors are decorated with silver and gold thread. Weavers can be seen in Luaor and especially in Pambusuang (kabupaten Polmas). In Polmas you can visit the market in Tinanbung, the center of production and trade in the silk sarung.
The trip towards the north to Mamuju is only for those who don't dislike slow and very hot Southeast-Asian coastal locations. The roads are muddy, less than average food and an old pier.

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