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The Archipelago Journal: Buton Island

When it comes to nature, history and culture, Buton is small yet staggering and underrated yet overwhelming.

Words by Sendy Aditya

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The first time I saw the island of Buton I was flying about a thousand metres over it. It was a bright, early morning on a Garuda Indonesia Makassar-Baubau flight. As we neared our destination, the captain announced to the passengers that through the right-hand side windows you could see the aerial beauty of Buton.

I was mesmerised by what I saw: the sun’s golden rays illuminating the verdant island, and rainbows arcing over its beaches.

We touched down at Betoambari Airport in Baubau, the main port of entry to the Buton Regency in Southeast Sulawesi. Like its more popular neighbour Wakatobi, Buton is blessed with rich natural beauty and diverse marine life; but it remains somewhat of a hidden gem of east Indonesia.

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Baubau was once the capital of the ancient Wolio Kingdom. While there are few historical records from this time, many old Javanese texts reference the long-lost kingdom, which fell under the influence of the Ternatean Empire in the Maluku Islands.

As a key port on the trade route between Sulawesi and the Maluku Islands, the harbour of Baubau played a strategic role in the kingdom from the 14th to the 16th centuries, when it was transformed into the Buton Sultanate with the arrival of Islam in the region.

The expansive Keraton Wolio was the centre of the now defunct Buton Sultanate and Wolio Kingdom. The palatial fortress has a circular form with a total circumference of 2,740m set on a 23,375-hectare plot of land. Within the two-metre-high stone fortifications of the Keraton Wolio compound are historical treasures from the sultanate, including the Keraton Grand Mosque, one of the oldest in east Indonesia, built in 1712 during the rule of Sakiyuddin Durul Alam, Buton’s 19th sultan.

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Next to the Grand Mosque stands a 21m-tall wooden flagpole, which originally flew the colours of the Buton Sultanate and is believed to be the oldest flagpole in the archipelago!

Touring the palace complex, I met octogenarian Ibu Liya, and her septuagenarian sibling Pak Wa’Adika, who are caretakers-cum-guides of the grounds. Both are children of the sultanate’s last La’Ane, a man tasked with flying the sultanate’s flag. Imaginings of Keraton Wolio in its former glory filled my head as the two siblings regaled me with the stories passed on to them by their father.

As the sun crept higher in the sky, the heat baked the stones of the fortress. I thanked my kind guides for their time and headed towards my next destination: Wabula village. The village, in the Pasarwajo district of Buton, is a 28km journey along winding roads. As I arrived at the coastal village, I was greeted by the distinct sounds of rhythmically knocking wood, emanating from each stilted home.

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The sounds were coming from the traditional weaving machines that the villagers use to craft unique local textiles with intricate motifs. A single piece can take up to five days to complete. The village women weave in the shade underneath their stilted homes to avoid the midday heat.

The clothes they make aren’t just for the few tourists who know of the village. Traditional garb is still popularly worn by the locals. Out of respect for the traditional ways and to help preserve the craft culture of the island and empower its craftsmen, Buton Regent Samsu Umar Abdul Samiun even instigated Friday as a day for all civil servants to wear traditional Buton attire.

From Wabula, I made my way towards Pasarwajo to cool off in the ocean with a welcome spot of scuba diving.

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Accompanied by divemasters Dedi and Ardi, we explored the underwater seascapes off the coast and, among others, spotted several mandarinfish. The tiny fish are highly sought after by divers for their striking body patterns of swirling squiggles, dots and stripes in improbably neon colours of orange, blue, yellow and green. According to my guides, recent studies have shown that they also have surprisingly complex social structures and mating rituals, which can be fascinating to observe. Researchers have revealed that every night after sunset, groups of three to five females gather – each group with its own coral ‘corner’ to which the same members return night after night. Lone males visit the groups one at a time to display their courtship behaviour, hoping to attract a female into a mating ‘dance’.

As more people discover the magic of Buton, the more people will be able to appreciate and help preserve its cultural and natural beauty.

Makassar to Baubau


Flight Time 55 minutes

Frequency 7 flights per week

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From Colours January 2016

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5 Senses – Touch
TEXTILES

At the weaving village of Wabula, numerous traditional Buton woven cloths can be seen. The weavers will show visitors their skills, passed down for generations. One of the traditional patterns is that of the two-coloured lined samasili; this type of cloth is used to accompany traditional dresses at parties and ceremonies. The signature and most unique colour of samasili is black- and-white.