La Galigo

The Bugis people of South Sulawesi have a long literary tradition centering on a great epic, the La Galigo, dating from approximately the 14th century with pre-Islamic content. It is probably the longest single literary work from anywhere in the world, of any culture or period: the whole text covers about 6,000 pages. As such, this work not only typifies Bugis culture but is of great importance as a world literary monument. The epic was originally transmitted orally but was transcribed in writing in the 18th century. It is written in verse, according to a strict metre, in the Bugis language and script. It consists of stories of the hero Sawérigading, his descent from the gods and his loves, travels and life. The epic contains many details of Bugis life, culture and religion. Unfortunately, knowledge of both the language and the script is dying in face of the steady spread of the standard Indonesian language and script. There are several hundred volumes containing parts of the La Galigo epic scattered in libraries across the world.

On the International Memory of the World Register two manuscripts of exceptional importance were inscribed in 2011. One is at Leiden in the Netherlands. This is the fullest copy surviving, in twelve hand-written volumes of 2,851 pages, covering about a third of the text. This copy was written in the 1850s by Arung Pancana Toa, a heroic Queen of the Bugis people. The second is the best text known to survive in South Sulawesi (many others are in private hands and in poor conditions): it is in one volume of 217 pages and covers just one episode of the epic. It was probably written around 1830.

International Register



These manuscripts are held in the Library of the University of Leiden and the Museum La Galigo in South Sulawesi. ~ 1. Museum La Galigo 2. Leiden University Library