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The Kingdom of Luwu (also Luwuq or Wareq) is the oldest kingdom in South Sulawesi. In 1889, the Dutch Governor of Makassar placed Luwu’s heyday between the tenth and fourteenth centuries AD, but offered no evidence. The La Galigo, an epic poem in an archaic form of the Bugis language, is the likely source of Braam Morris’ dating. The La Galigo depicts a vaguely defined world of coastal and riverine kingdoms whose economies are based on trade. The important centers of this world are Luwu and the kingdom of Cina (pronounced Cheena but identical in Indonesian pronunciation to China), which lay in the western Cenrana valley, with its palace centre near the hamlet of Sarapao in Pamanna district. The incompatibility of the La Galigo’s society and political economy with the reality of the Bugis agricultural kingdoms led Bugis historians to propose an intervening period of chaos to separate the two chronologically.[1]

Archaeological and textual research carried out since the 1980s has undermined this chronology.[2] Extensive surveys and excavations in Luwu have revealed that it is no older than the earliest agricultural kingdoms of the southwest peninsula. The new understanding is that Bugis speaking settlers from the western Cénrana valley began to settle along the coastal margins around the year AD 1300. The Gulf of Bone is not a Bugis-speaking area: it is a thinly populated region of great ethnic diversity. Speakers of Pamona, Padoe, Toala, Wotu and Lemolang languages live on the coastal lowlands and foothills, while the highland valleys are home to groups speaking various other Central and South Sulawesi languages. The Bugis are found almost solely along the coast, to which they have evidently migrated in order to trade with Luwu’s indigenous peoples. It is clear both from archaeological and textual sources that Luwu was a Bugis-led coalition of various ethnic groups, united by trading relationships.

Luwu’s political economy was based on the smelting of iron ore brought down, via the Lémolang-speaking polity of Baebunta, to Malangke on the central coastal plain. Here the smelted iron was worked into weapons and agricultural tools and exported to the rice-growing southern lowlands. This brought the kingdom great wealth, and by the fourteenth century Luwu had become the feared overlord of large parts of the southwest and southeast peninsula. The first ruler for which we have any real information was Dewaraja (ruled c. 1495-1520). Stories current today in South Sulawesi tell of his aggressive attacks on the neighboring kingdoms of Wajo and Sidenreng. Luwu’s power was eclipsed in the sixteenth century by the rising power of the southern agrarian kingdoms, and its military defeats are set out in the Chronicle of Bone.

On 4 or 5 February 1605, Luwu’s ruler, La Patiwareq, Daeng Pareqbung, became the first South Sulawesi ruler to embrace Islam, taking as his title Sultan Muhammad Wali Mu’z’hir (or Muzahir) al–din. He is buried at Malangke and is referred to in the chronicles as Matinroe ri Wareq, ‘He who sleeps at Wareq’, the former palace–centre of Luwuq. His religious teacher, Dato Sulaiman, is buried nearby. Around 1620, Malangke was abandoned and a new capital was established to the west at Palopo. It is not known why this sprawling settlement, the population of which may have reached 15,000 in the 16th century, was suddenly abandoned: possibilities include the declining price of iron goods and the economic potential of trade with the Toraja highlands.

By the 19th century, Luwu had become a backwater. James Brooke, later Rajah of Sarawak, wrote in the 1830s that ‘Luwu is the oldest Bugis state, and the most decayed [...] Palopo is a miserable town, consisting of about 300 houses, scattered and dilapidated [...] It is difficult to believe that Luwu could ever have been a powerful state, except in a very low state of native civilisation.’[3] In the 1960s Luwu was a focus of an Islamic rebellion led by Kahar Muzakkar. Today the former kingdom is home to the world’s largest nickel mine and is experiencing an economic boom fueled by inward migration, yet it still retains much of its original frontier atmosphere.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pelras, C. 1996. The Bugis. Oxford: Blackwell.
  2. ^ Bulbeck, D. and I. Caldwell. 2000. Land of iron; The historical archaeology of Luwu and the Cenrana valley. Hull: Centre for South East Asian Studies, University of Hull.
  3. ^ Brooke, J. 1848. Narrative of events in Borneo and Celebes down to the occupation of Labuan. From the Journals of James Brooke, Esq. Rajah of Sarawak and Governor of Labuan [. . .] by Captain Rodney Mundy. London: John Murray.

Coordinates: 3°00′S 120°12′E / 3°S 120.2°E / -3; 120.2