The Bugis

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The Bugis are acclaimed sea traders from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi (southern Celebes), and tradionally they traded along with the Malays all around the Malay archipelago, and they too made Singapore their home. Indeed, both Sultan Hussein and Temenggong Abdul Rahman had Bugis ancestry. 

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Next to the Malay Heritage Centre are a couple of exhibition rooms featuring the Bugis and their culture. It is definitely worth spending some time in here. The snake features highly in their artefacts and there are seveal beautiful examples in this exhibition. If you visit this museum, you will get a better understanding of the area in Singapore known as Bugis and Arab Street, and realise why there are so many Indonesian restaurants around here. The Arab quarter of Singapore makes a really interesting place to explore, and there are plenty of interesting cafes to pop into to get out of the heat.

Traditional Bugis culture had the most open view of ones personal gender, something which should resonate with everyone today. It had a fluid approach to gender identity, so that if you were born a man but displayed feminine behaviour, you could take on feminine roles and occupations. No-one’s occupations were predicated on their biological appearance. There were in fact five gender identities, with a special place in society for someone possessing both male and female characteristics; they were known as the ‘bissu’ who were imbued with magical powers. 

The Malay Heritage Centre and the Bugis exhibition were full of surprises and it is definitely worth spending some time here. 


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© Helen Gray 2019