Selayar : Crystal Clear Tropical Waters

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.

Map of Selayar island
Map of Selayar island (Source : blogabbasahmad.blogspot.co.id)

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 island of Selayar, South Sulawesi
The island of Selayar, South Sulawesi (Source : flickr.com)

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.

ACTIVITIES

Here are a number of beach resorts on the island:

  • Selayar Island Resort, Baloyia Beach on the Baloiya road at km 10 from Benteng. The resort offers beachfront bungalows and access to 50 world-class dive sites, sloops and walls.
  • Selayar Eco Resort, Pinang Beach, Selayar.

This secluded tropical paradise offers a number of splendid, secluded white sandy beaches. The Baloiya Beach stretches some 3 km along the coast. From here you can see tarsiers and wild boars amongst the dense foliage of the forest. The Selayar Dive Resort offers cottages and facilities for divers. Other beaches are the Pinang Beach, some 80 minutes from Benteng or the Je’neiya Beach, some 60 minutes from the town of Benteng.

Besides diving and snorkeling among the colorful reefs and underwater life of Taka Bonerate, the island of Selayar offers a number of outstanding attractions to visit and see.

The Dongson Kettledrum
The Dongson Kettledrum (Source : satimterus.blogspot.co.id)

The Dongson Kettledrum is the star attraction here. Excavated in the 17th century, this large and beautifully decorated Dongson kettledrum is from the Bronze Age and estimated to be around 2,000 years old. Found in Papalahoia, which was the seat of 14th century pre-historic Selayar kingdoms.

The kettledrum is now stored at Bontobangun, some 3 km. south of Benteng in what is described as a “one room museum”. The museum must be opened with a special key that can be obtained through your local guide.

The large Dongson drum, said to be the largest in the world, stands 95 cm high and has a diameter of 115 cm. On the top is a large star with 16 points and 4 stylized frogs. Its sides have four handles, in pairs of two. Decorations along its side cover three bands: at the bottom are etched elephants, birds and coconut trees, the center band are abstract motives, and the top depicts peacocks.

The town of Benteng, Selayar
The town of Benteng, Selayar (Source : youtube.com)

Besides the Dongson drum, this one-room museum also has remnants of ancient ships. There is the head of the naga (dragon) that is 110 cm. high, has wings, head and a tail which is 150 cm. long, made in the Majapahit style. There is also an “anjungan” the platform where the captain of the ship gives his orders to the crew. An 16th century Arabic inscription mentions : “Sultan Abd al-Malik, Tuban”. Tuban is a port in East Java, which was the main harbor during the time of the Majapahit kingdom.

Not far from here is the Fortress of Gantarang. Gantarang was one of the strongest pre-Islamic kingdoms, who built this fortress to ward invaders from Ternate and Buton.

GET THERE

To get to Selayar you can travel overland from Makassar to the town of Tanjung Bira, and take the ferry to Selayar from here. The sea journey takes two hours. But when the seas are choppy, ferries do not sail.

There are air conditioned buses from Makassar, leaving at 9.0 am and arriving at Benteng at 07.30 pm travelling via Bira, where the ferry carries passengers and bus to Selayar.

Alternatively, you can try the SMAC charter flights from Makassar to Selayar, that flies here three times weekly,on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, although its schedule is quite sporadic. The flight takes 40 minutes.

It is recommended to make your travel arrangements through bonafide travel agents in Makassar, your Selayar Hotel and Dive Sites or the Selayar Regency Culture and Tourist Office.

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