The Bugis are the most numerous of the three major linguistic and ethnic groups of South Sulawesi, the southwestern province of Sulawesi, Indonesia's third largest island. Although many Bugis live in the large port cities of Makassar and Parepare, the majority are farmers who grow wet rice on the lowland plains to the north and west of the town of Maros. The name Bugis is an exonym which represents an older form of the name; (To) Ugi is the endonym.
The Bugis speak a distinct regional language in addition to Indonesian, called Basa Ugi, Bugis or Buginese. In reality, there are a several dialects, some of which are sufficiently different from others to be considered separate languages. Bugis belongs to the South Sulawesi language group; other members include Makasar, Toraja, Mandar and Enrekang, each being a series of dialects.
In historical European literature, the Bugis have a reputation for being fierce, war-like, and industrious. Honor, status, and rank are of great importance to the Bugis. They are a self-sufficient people who have a positive self-image and are very confident of their own abilities. As the most numerous group in the region (more than 5 million), they have had considerable influence on their neighbors.
Most Bugis live in stilted houses, sometimes three meters (9 feet) or more off the ground, with plank walls and floors. During growing seasons some family members may reside in little huts dispersed among the fields.
Many of the marriages are still arranged by parents and ideally take place between cousins. A newlywed couple often lives with the wife's family for the first few years of their marriage. Divorce is a fairly common occurrence, particularly when the married couple are still in their teens.
The Bugis' diet consists mainly of rice, maize, fish, chicken, vegetables, fruit and coffee. On festive occasions, goat is served as a special dish. Visual and performing arts, such as dance and recitations of epic poetry have largely been replaced by modern entertaiments such as karaoke.
The conclusion in 1669 of a protracted civil war led to a diaspora of Bugis and their entry into the politics of peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra. Under the leadership of Daeng Parani, the descendants of two families settled on the Linggi and Selangor rivers and became the power behind the Johor throne, with the creation of the office of the Yang Dipertuan Muda (Yam Tuan Muda), or Bugis underking.
The Bugis sailors left their mark and culture on an area of the northern Australian coast which stretches over two thousand kilometers from the Kimberley to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Throughout these parts of northern Australia, there is much evidence of a significant Bugis presence. There are the remains of Bugis buildings on islands, Bugis words have become part of the Aboriginal languages and Bugis men and their craft feature in the indigenous art of the people of Arnhem Land. Each year, the Bugis sailors would sail down on the northwestern monsoon in their wooden pinisi. They would stay in Australian waters for several months to trade and take trepang (or dried sea cucumber) before returning to Makassar on the dry season off shore winds. These trading voyages continued until 1907.
As Thomas Forrest wrote in Voyage from Calcutta, "The Bugis are a high-spirited people: they will not bear ill-usage...They are fond of adventures, emigration, and capable of undertaking the most dangerous enterprises."