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North Sulawesi

"The town of Manado", wrote the well-known English zoologist Alfred Russel Wallace after a visit to the area in 1859, "is one of the most beautiful places in the East. It looks like a big garden in which rows of villas are built. Wide paths in between are streets, which are usually squared. Good roads split up in several directions to the hinterlands, with some rural houses, nice little gardens and rich plantations, jungle and fruit trees. In the west and south the area is mountainous, with groups of volcanic peaks with a height between 1800 and 2100 meters, which form high and picturesque backgrounds in the landscape... I had heard a lot about the beauty of this country, but reality has surpassed my expectations by far."

Populations of the north
Lively, happy and extravert

From the dozens of related populations which used to be in North Sulawesi, most of them have merged in four important ethnical groups. There names are related to the four districts of the province. Many local groups still have their own identiry, which is mainly distinguished by language or dialect.
Outside the province, these groups are usually named orang Manado, but this term points more towards the (Christian) Minahasa, the extravert group which is half of the population in the province. The Minahasa formed the profession elite, but other groups closed the gap with them over the last decades. Especially the people from Gorontalo is known as successfull small traders.

The north also knows populations of migrants, of which the Chinese are most remarkable; they are concentrated in the cities and are mainly involved in trade. Over the years many Chinese and Minahasa got married; tensions between ethnical groups are less than in other areas.
Small Arabic communities (mainly in the center of Manado and Gorontalo) as involved in commercial and advising directions. There is a limited number of Buginese and Makasarese from the south, about one per cent of the population consists of Jawanese and Balinese transmigrants. Along the coast there are also Bajau settlements, but in smaller numbers than in Central or Southeast Sulawesi.

Religion and culture

In Minahasa, 95 per cent of the population of Christian, mainly Protestant with a small Catholic minority. There is a Protestant church, but there are about fitty other religious directions. The populations of Gorontalo and Mongondow are almost entirely Islamic; the last group has converted in the late 19th century. In cities like Manado and Bitung there is a better balance between Muslems and Christians.
Outside the influence of Christianity, Islam and the west, there are remains of a local culture. Among the Minahasa (and probably also among other groups) there is a lively (and often modest) belief in a supernatural world, which is inhabited by the opo-opo gods: ancestors, cultural heroes or friendly or dangerous creatures. They can be reached directly or with the help of ritual specialists. Sacrifices and posession by spirits is common; especially the holy stone of the ancestors, Watu Pinabetengan, is loved by such activities. The pre-Christian stone graves (waruga) which can be found on many locations are popular as well.
What is nowadays seen as 'traditional culture' by the department of education and culture and by the national tv station TVRI, is limited to the visual and performing arts and lacks m any of it's original ritual meaning. Unfortunately North Sulawesi isn't Bali or even Tana Toraja, however there are interesting dances, which visitors can observe without much hassle.

Maybe the Minahasa songs are most accessible of the local arts. The happy Minahasa are known throughout the country for their vocal skills, which are best expressed during huge ritual celebrations, when wine and songs are used widely. The songs are often guided by a kolintang-orchestra, which consists of several wooden xylophons.
Kolintang are to be found in almost every village and every once in a while also in popular seafood restaurants in and around Manado. The music is also on sale. Often, modernized and geculiated dances are performed for important guests, or in competitions, instead of their original, religious context. Maengket and marambak are group dances, often guided by songs, which were once related with harvest festivities and inauguration of new houses. The cakalele wardance, known throughout the province and in Maluku is performed by men dressed in red, which hold swords and shields to scare their opponents.
Many paintings and other arts are gone, but there is a tradition of woodcarving, especially on the Sangihe-Talaud islands. In the 19th century weaving disappeared from Minahasa, but in the center of Gorontalo there is an attractive kind of embroidery (krawang), of which the results are widely available in the form of confection, sheets and cloths.

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