Located at the most southern end of South Sulawesi, this quiet and now isolated island of Selayar, with its swathes of pristine white sand beaches and crystal clear tropical waters used to have an illustrious past.
Ancient Javanese writings in the Nagara Kertagama mention that in the 14th century there was already a thriving kingdom on Selayar. This pre-Islamic kingdom seemed to have been a hub of trade, visited by merchants from China, the Philippines and Thailand, having left evidence of its existence in the many precious artifacts excavated here. Most notable is the beautiful Dongson Kettledrum, the largest in the world, that is said to be 2,000 years old dating back to the Bronze Age. Other artifacts include delicate Chinese and Sawankholok (Thai) porcelain, which were found in abundance on the island. Islam seems to have entered Selayar in the 16th century spread by followers of the Sultan of Ternate, in Maluku.
In the 16th century, Selayar was fought over for its blue-white cotton products, a favorite in the archipelago. And when the Dutch won hegemony over Selayar, they monopolized the cotton trade, forcing Selayar to send the cotton only to Fort Rotterdam in Makassar. However today, with modern fabrics the popularity of cotton waned and the people of Selayar were forced to return to living from coconut produce, relegating the island to its present isolation.
Due to the geographical shape and location of Selayar, standing vertical on the Makassar – Moluccas trade route, – when Ternate , Tidore, Ambon and Banda were the main producers of spices and Makassar was the center of trade, – the island of Selayar became an undisputable important territory that could either contribute to or hinder the spice trade.
The 80 km. long island of Selayar is in fact gateway to the spectacular Taka Bonerate National Park that teems with colorful coral reefs, giant sponges, a wealth of fish species including dugongs and tuna, gliding past turtles and manta rays. Comprising 21 islands and atolls, Taka Bonerate is the third biggest atoll in the world after the Marshall Islands and the Maldives. Although still predominantly covered by rainforests, Selayar boasts many pristine white sand beaches.
The largest town on the island is called Benteng, a bustling little town of motorbikes and trishaws. The town center is the “alun-alun”, the town square, where on one side still stands a solid old prison built by the Dutch in the 1890’s. The square is the focal point of celebrations and events happening on the island.
The web lists hotels, guesthouses, cottages and home-stays in Benteng. The friendly staff can also arrange a tour guide, liaise with SMAC air, arrange traditional wooden boat trips and recommend restaurants. Most speak English.
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