The Bonerate live on the islands of Bonerate, Madu, Lalaotoa, Karompa and Selayar in the South Sulawesi Province. These islands are in the Selayar Regency. Bonerate Island is in a very remote area. The journey from the South Sulawesi capital of Makassar takes 2-3 days. The first part of the trip is a ferry ride to Benteng on Selayar Island, and the second part involves renting a fishing boat since there is no public transportation to Bonerate.
Their primary language is the Bonerate language, which is made up of two dialects, Bonerate and Karompa. The Bonerate language is part of a larger language group called the Muna-Buton which also includes the East Buton, Cia-Cia, and Busoa languages.
What are their lives like?
There has been a steady population drain from Bonerate due to people moving to other parts of Sulawesi, such as Makassar, Kendari and Toli-Toli. The Bonerate typically move to Makassar to seek better education and employment. Many Bonerate have become cloth and bread sellers in urban markets. Many have migrated to Toli-toli and Kendari with the hope of receiving broader, more fertile farmland for a cheaper price.
The Bonerate people make a living primarily through fishing and farming. The primary crops are cassava, sweet potatoes, cloves and sago palm. These are grown organically. Bonerate farmers struggle to grow other types of vegetables because the land is too dry. Vegetables are brought in from other islands.
Bonerate houses are built on raised platforms with a vacant space underneath used for storage. Houses are neatly arranged in rows, with two rows of houses as long as the island. One row of houses is nicer due to differing levels of income. Bathing and bathroom needs are carried out on the shoreline.
What are their beliefs?
Most Bonerate people are Muslims. They are also influenced by strong animistic beliefs. Bonerate believe that a powerful spirit inhabits the sea. When heavy winds and high waves occur, the people often believe that this ruler of the sea is angry. Various ceremonies and rituals are used to pacify the sea spirit.
What are their needs?
A well known asset of the Bonerate is the National Takabonerate Park. This park spreads over
220,000 hectares, with 21 small islands near the Flores sea. The Atol Takabonerate is the third largest atol (circular coral reef) in the world. Sea transportation is inadequate to reach it.
A large port is needed that could accommodate large ships and smaller boats which could make the trip into these islands. The presence of a port would facilitate the sea crossing between Selayar and Kupang in East Nusa Tenggara. If this were made available, it would help mobility and spur economic growth in this area.