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Sulawesi (formerly known as Celebes, ) is one of the four larger Sunda Islandsmarker of Indonesiamarker and is situated between Borneomarker and the Maluku Islandsmarker.


The Portuguesemarker were the first to refer to Sulawesi as 'Celebes'. The meaning of this name is unclear. One theory claims it means "hard to reach" due to rough waters full of currents and streams surrounding the island. Originally it did not refer to the entire island as the Portuguese thought Sulawesi was an archipelago. The modern name 'Sulawesi' possibly comes from the words sula ('island') and besi ('iron') and may refer to the historical export of iron from the rich Lake Matanomarker iron deposits.


According to reconstruction of plate tectonics, the island is believed to have been formed by the collision of terranes from the Asian Plate (forming the west and southwest), from the Australian Plate (forming the southeast and Banggaimarker), and from island arcs previously in the Pacific (forming the north and east peninsulas).


The settlement of South Sulawesi by modern humans is dated to c. 30,000 B.C. on the basis of radiocarbon dates obtained from rock shelters in Maros. No earlier evidence of human occupation has been found, but the island almost certainly formed part of the land bridge used for the settlement of Australia and New Guinea by at least 40,000 BC. There is no evidence of Homo erectus having reached Sulawesi; crude stone tools first discovered in 1947 on the right bank of the Walennae river at Berru, which were thought to date to the Pleistocene on the basis of their association with vertebrate fossils, are now thought to date to perhaps 50,000 BC.

Following Bellwood's model of a southward migration of Austronesian-speaking farmers (AN), radiocarbon dates from caves in Maros suggest a date in the mid-second millennium B.C. for the arrival of an AN group from east Borneo speaking a Proto-South Sulawesi language (PSS). Initial settlement was probably around the mouth of the Sa'dan river, on the northwest coast of the peninsula, although the south coast has also been suggested. Subsequent migrations across the mountainous landscape resulted in the geographical isolation of PSS speakers and the evolution of their languages into the eight families of the South Sulawesi language group. If each group can be said to have a homeland, that of the Bugis – today the most numerous group – was around lakes Témpé and Sidénréng in the Walennaé depression. Here for some 2,000 years lived the linguistic group that would become the modern Bugis; the archaic name of this group (which is preserved in other local languages) was Ugiq. Despite the fact that today they are closely linked with the Makasar, the closest linguistic neighbors of the Bugis are the Toraja.

Pre-1200 CE Bugis society was organized into petty chiefdoms, which would have warred and, in times of peace, exchanged women with each other. Personal security would have been negligible, and head-hunting an established cultural practice. The political economy would have been a mixture of hunting and gathering and swidden or shifting agriculture. Speculative planting of wet rice may have taken place along the margins of the lakes and rivers.


Starting in the 13th century, access to prestige trade goods and to sources of iron started to alter long-standing cultural patterns, and to permit ambitious individuals to build larger political units. It is not known why these two ingredients appeared together; one was perhaps the product of the other. By 1400, a number of nascent agricultural principalities had arisen in the western Cenrana valley, as well as on the south coast and on the east coast near modern Parepare.

The first Europeans to visit the island (which they believed to be an archipelago due to its contorted shape) were Portuguese sailors in 1525, sent from the Moluccas in search of gold, which the islands had the reputation of producing. The Dutch arrived in 1605 and were quickly followed by the English, who established a factory in Makassar. From 1660, the Dutch were at war with Gowa, the major Makasar west coast power. In 1669, Admiral Speelman forced the ruler, Sultan Hasanuddin, to sign the Treaty of Bongaya, which handed control of trade to the Dutch East India Company. The Dutch were aided in their conquest by the Bugis warlord Arung Palakka, ruler of the Bugis kingdom of Bone. The Dutch built a fort at Ujung Pandang, while Arung Palakka became the regional overlord and Bone the dominant kingdom. Political and cultural development seems to have slowed as a result of the status quo. In 1905 the entire island became part of the Dutch state colony of the Netherlands East Indiesmarker until Japanese occupation in World War II. In 1949, after the Indonesian National Revolution, during which the notorious Dutch Captain 'Turk' Westerling is believed to have murdered between 3,000 to 4,000 people, Sulawesi became part of the independent United States of Indonesia, which in 1950 became the Republic of Indonesiamarker.

Religious conflict

Sulawesi has been plagued by Muslim-Christian violence in recent years. The most serious violence occurred between 1998 and 2001 on the once peaceful island. Over 1,000 people were killed in violence, riots, and ethnic cleansing that ripped through Central Sulawesi. The violence pitted the island's Muslims against Christians (and vice versa). A peace accord was not agreed to until 2001.

The Malino peace accord did not eradicate the violence. In the following years, tension and systematic attacks persisted. In 2003, 13 Christian villagers were killed in the Poso District by unknown masked gunmen. And in 2005 three Christian schoolgirls were beheaded in Poso by Islamic militants. A message next to one of the heads allegedly read: "A life for a life. A head for a head".

Riots erupted again in September 2006 in Christian dominated areas of Central Sulawesi, as well as other part of Indonesia, after the execution by firing squad of Fabianus Tibo, Dominggus da Silva and Marinus Riwu, three Catholics convicted of leading Christian militias during the violence of the early 2000s. Their supporters claimed that Muslims who participated in the violence received very light sentences and that none were sentenced to death, and that the government used a double standard. The violence appeared to be aimed at government authorities, not Muslims.


Sulawesi is the world's eleventh-largest island, covering an area of . The island is surrounded by Borneomarker to the west, by the Philippinesmarker to the north, by Malukumarker to the east, and by Floresmarker and Timormarker to the south. It has a distinctive shape, dominated by four large peninsulas: the Semenanjung Minahassamarker; the East Peninsula; the South Peninsula; and the South-east Peninsula. The central part of the island is ruggedly mountainous, such that the island's peninsulas have traditionally been remote from each other, with better connections by sea than by road.

The island is subdivided into six provinces: Gorontalomarker, West Sulawesi, South Sulawesimarker, Central Sulawesimarker, Southeast Sulawesimarker, and North Sulawesimarker. West Sulawesi is a new province, created in 2004 from part of South Sulawesi. The largest cities on the island are Makassarmarker, on the southwestern coast of the island, and Manadomarker, on the northern tip.

Flora and fauna

Sulawesi straddles Wallace's Line meaning that it has a mix of both Asian and Australasian species. However, the majority of Sulawesi's wildlife belongs to the Australasia region. of the island is devoted to Lore Lindu National Parkmarker.

There are 127 known mammalian species in Sulawesi. A large percentage of these mammals, 62% (79 species) are endemic, meaning that they are found nowhere else in Indonesia or the world. The largest native mammal in Sulawesi is the dwarf buffalo, locally known as the anoa. Other mammalian species inhabiting Sulawesi are the babirusa, a pig-like animal, the Sulawesi palm civet, several species of cuscus (the Sulawesi Dwarf Cuscus and Sulawesi Bear Cuscus), and primates including a number of tarsiers (the spectral, Dian's, Lariang and pygmy varieties) and several species of macaque, including the crested black macaque, the moor macaque and the booted macaque.

By contrast, because many birds can fly between islands, Sulawesian bird species tend to be found on other nearby islands as well, such as Borneomarker; only 34% of Sulawesi's birds are found nowhere else. One endemic bird is the largely ground-dwelling, chicken-sized maleo, which reproduces like no other bird: taking advantage of the hot sand produced by the island's volcanic vents, they dig holes in the sand, lay their eggs, and promptly leave the scene. There are around 400 known bird species in Sulawesi. The Togian White-eye is another endemic that was described in 2008. An international partnership of conservationists, donors, and local people have formed the Alliance for Tompotika Conservation, in an effort to raise awareness and protect the nesting grounds of these birds on the central-eastern arm of the island.
Sulawesi also has several endemic species of freshwater fish, such as those in the genus Nomorhamphus, a species flock of livebearing freshwater halfbeaks containing at least 19 distinct species, most of which are only found on Sulawesi.
There are also many species of freshwater shrimp that are endemic to Sulawesi. Several of these species have become very popular in the aquarium hobby. They are considered some of the most beautiful freshwater shrimp species to be found and are not found anywhere else in the world. Several of these shrimp species are found only in specific lakes in Sulawesi, making them even more rare . 
Orange Delight Shrimp from Sulawesi.
 Freshwater snails endemic to Sulawesi are also extremely beautiful and like the shrimp are endemic to Sulawesi . The snails and shrimp from Sulawesi have made a wonderful addition to the freshwater aquarium invertebrate hobby. However, there must be careful attention placed to conserve and protect these species as well as many others. Due to the small habitat and unique environment it is critical that all freshwater species from Sulawesi be conserved properly. An expedition was conducted by Mimbon Aquarium to the island of Sulawesi to document and collect some of the species of fish, shrimp and snails mentioned. There are several photos of the landscape, underwater habitat and some of the collected specimens from the expedition journal .

The island was recently the subject of an Ecoregional Conservation Assessment, coordinated by The Nature Conservancy. Detailed reports about the vegetation of the island are available . The assessment produced a detailed and annotated list of 'conservation portfolio' sites . This information was widely distributed to local government agencies and nongovernmental organizations. Detailed conservation priorities have also been outlined in a recent publication .

The lowland forests on the island are, unfortunately, almost gone . Because of the relative geological youth of the island and its dramatic and sharp topography, the lowland areas are naturally limited in their extent. The past decade has seen dramatic conversion of this rare and endangered habitat. The island also possesses one of the largest outcrops of serpentine soil in the world, which support an unusual and large community of specialized plant species. Overall, the flora and fauna of this unique center of global biodiversity is very poorly documented and understood and remains critically threatened.


The 2000 census population of the provinces of Sulawesi was 14,946,488, about 7.25% of Indonesia's total population. The largest city is Makassarmarker.


Islam is the majority religion in Sulawesi. The conversion of the lowlands of the south western peninsula (South Sulawesi) to Islam occurred in the early 17th century. The kingdom of Luwu in the Gulf of Bone was the first to accept Islam in February 1605; the Makasar kingdom of Goa-Talloq, centered on the modern-day city of Makassarmarker, followed suit in September. However, the Gorontalo and the Mongondow peoples of the northern peninsula largely converted to Islam only in the nineteenth century. Most Muslims are Sunnis.

Christians form a substantial minority on the island. According to the demographer Toby Alice Volkman, 17% of Sulawesi's population is Protestant and less than 2% is Roman Catholic. Christians are concentrated on the tip of the northern peninsula around the city of Manadomarker, which is inhabited by the Minahasa, a predominantly Protestant people, and the northernmost Sangirmarker and Talaud Islandsmarker. The famous Toraja people of Tana Torajamarker in Central Sulawesi have largely converted to Christianity since Indonesia's independence. There are also substantial numbers of Christians around Lake Posomarker in Central Sulawesi, among the Pamona speaking peoples of Central Sulawesi, and near Mamasa. There has also been growth in the Christian population of the Banggai Islandsmarker and the Eastern Peninsula in Central Sulawesi, traditionally thought of as Muslim areas.

Though most people identify themselves as Muslims or Christians, they often subscribe to local beliefs and deities as well. It is not unusual (and fully accepted) for Christians to make offerings to local gods, goddesses, and spirits.

Smaller communities of Buddhists and Hindus are also found on Sulawesi, usually among the Chinese, Balinese and Indian communities.


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