Local Lore

It is no secret that relevant information on our history and culture has proven difficult to obtain in many parts of the country. Any available references are usually written by outsiders, in their own perspectives. In an effort to remedy the lack of such vital information, a movement has emerged to bring books to the people, with reference to local history and traditions. This work is now being used nationally as the main reference to data of the regions concerned. To commemorate National Book Day on May 17, Tempo English reports from South and Western Sulawesi, and South Kalimantan.


Ridwan’s research about Mandar’s maritime culture has earned him recognition all over the world. Despite not finishing his studies, his books have become references for experts.

Muhammad Ridwan Alimuddin. Foto/Dokumentasi Pribadi

Muhammad Ridwan Alimuddin. Foto/Dokumentasi Pribadi

For Muhammad Ridwan Alimuddin, the fastest outrigger boat in the archipelago is in Mandar, West Sulawesi. The sandeq, as this sailboat is known, can zip through waters at 40 kilometers an hour. That is faster than most small motorboats.

Ridwab discovered this when researching the maritime life of the Mandar people. The key to the sandeq’s speed, Ridwan said, was in its long, tapered shape and light weight. “Plus  a good wind to push the boat,” he told Tempo.

The 34-year-old man has written eight books. Now he is working on two others. This December a publisher in Yogyakarta plans to print them all—some reprints, some new. They are being packaged under the special theme of’10 Years, 10 Books : Ridwan for Indonesian Maritime’.

Even though he never graduated from a university, Ridwan has a reputation as a skilled researcher. According to Horst H. Liebner, a maritime  experts from Germany, among all the books on Mandar’s marine culture, Ridwan’s works are the best. “If it wasn’t for him, there might not be any Mandar maritime books that were detailed or insightful,” Liebner said.

According to Darwin Badaruddin, executive officer of the Head of the Officer of Culture and Tourism of Polewali Mandar, a regency in South Sulawesi, Ridwan’s work has enabled school and university students to learn about the region’s rich maritime culture. “His books are interesting for students because they are written in simple language, full of obsertvations,” Darwin said.

Sunset Losari dan Sandeq Race 2008. Foto/Irmawar

Sunset Losari dan Sandeq Race 2008. Foto/Irmawar

Ridwan decided to write books when he was studying fisheries at Gadjah Mada University (UGM) in 2000. At the time, he was having trouble finding books about Mandar’s maritime culture. He could only locate one title, Maritime, Sailing, and Trade Law bay the late attorney general Baharuddin Lopa. “It was mostly foreign journals which dealt with Mandar sailing traditions,” Ridwan said.

Still, the more he read, the more he was astonished by Mandar culture. The forerunner of the first sea voyages in Sulawesi took place in Mandar. It was mentioned in journal published by the World Food Programme, that Mandar  fishermen were the first to make the rumpon fish trap. He became curious and wanted to know more about that device. During a school holiday, Ridwan, the  son of a goldsmith, went to his hometown in Polewali Mandar.

There he visited coastal neighborhoods un Mandar Bay. He studied how rumpon were made from the fronds of coconut leaves and black sugar palm fibers and disguised to look like undergrowth. The natural appearance attracts fish to gather, seek shelter and spawn there. The fishermen no longer needed to ply the seas to catch fish.

Ridwan also followed the fishermen’s other activities. He hunted the eggs of flying fish—an export commodity of Mandar—and observed the activities of the fishermen’s wives. The fishermen taught him navigation and how to use intuition and the stars like a compass. Engrossed in his research, Ridwan took leave from school for a year.


Ridwan wrote out his research in 600 pages. He sent it to Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia (KPG), a division of the Gramedia publishing house. At the time, KPG had already published two maritime books. After it was cut to 200 pages, Ridwan’s book The Mandar, People of the Sea  was published in 2005.

At the same time he wrote Why Don’t We (Yet) Love the Sea?, a collection of short writing about his research trips and experiences in Java, South Sulawesi and elsewhere. That book was put out by Ombak, a publisher from Yogyakarta, in 2004. “Actually this is the second book,” Ridwan said. “The Mandar, People  of the Sea was finished first, but KPG took a year to edit my book, so it was published later.”

When writing these two books Ridwan met Horst H. Liebner, a German researcher. Liebner is the pioneer and coordinator of the Sandeq Race, held annually since 1995. The Mamuju-Makassar competition route is 540 kilometers long. After learning of Ridwan’s strong interest in maritime culture, Liebner asked him  to administer the race in 2001 and 2002.

Peserta Sandeq Race 2008 finis di Pantai Losari Makassar. Foto/Irmawar

Peserta Sandeq Race 2008 finis di Pantai Losari Makassar. Foto/Irmawar

Ridwan used this chance to learn more about the sandeq. He studied how to search for the right wood, build the boat and sail it. “Those who order and cut the wood wait for a good number of days according to the Kutika [an ancient Mandar text] before building boats,” Ridwan said.

Because he was so involved with his research, UGM told Ridwan in 2006 to drop out. It had been nearly 10 years since he had actually been at the school. He finally withdrew. “I had skipped class too often,” he said.

Despite leaving campus without a degree, Ridwan remains a trusted researcher. In 2006 he was a speaker at an international symposium on South-east Asia at Kyoto University in Japan. He presented a paper about the maritime law of the rumpon fishermen of the Makassar Strait. “I was not a university student, or lecturer, or doctor, but those who invited me did not care,” he said. “ They only judged me by my work.”

Ridwan continued to write. Between 2005 and 2009, he produced material for www.panyingkul.com, a website for writers from South Sulawesi, and the Radar Sulawesi Barat newspaper. He later published some of his works for  www.panyingkul.com as a book.

Ridwan has helped foreign researchers with their own projects. One of these was ‘The Great Sea Expedition’, the journey of an ancient boat from Indonesia to Japan in 2008. The expedition was led by Yoshiharu Sekino, a professor from Japan who has tracked down human artifacts from Africa to the United State while  using a bicycle. Ridwan assisted the team of Japanese researchers and joined the trip for a month, from Tarakan to Sandakan, Malaysia. He wrote about the experience in the e-book The Mad Expedition from Mandar to Japan.

Another one of his activities is being on the committee of the Sandeq Race. Since leaving UGM, Ridwan has helped run the competition. His experience in holding the Sandeq race, as well as his nearly 10 years studying the boat, were put into his book The Sandeq, Fastest Boat in the Arshipelago in 2009. Ridwan borrowed Rp 20 million from a friend to print it.

Despite not using a professional distributor, this third book of his has been widely distributed in Mandar. The Polewali Mandar Office of Education purchased 500 copies to distribute to schools. The book is also sold at some universities and passed  around at discussions or book review events held  by campus organizations. Ridwan was getting famous. “Maritime awareness has grown these past few years,” he said. “I don’t know if it had anything to do with my books. For sure, I am happy to be a part of it.”

Ridwan has made a solid living from writing. He and his uncle, Suradi Yasil, who is also a writer, created the Mandar Encylopedia. He has also been preparing a book about Mandar maritime culture of the past eight years. “Not many from Mandar or other Indonesians are doing this,” he said. “Let’s not have our documentation controlled by foreigners, like it was in the past.” (By Irmawati, Outreach, Tempo English Edition, June 3-9, 2013)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: