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La Galigo and the world

La Galigo and the world

La Galigo is the name of a work in the Bugis language (South Sulawesi), for the main part still in handwritten form using the indigenous Bugis script. Dating from approximately the 14th century and with its origin in oral traditions, its contents are pre-Islamic and of an epic-mythological nature with high literary quality. The size of the whole work is enormous (an estimated 6000 folio pages) and may be considered as the most voluminous literary work in the world.

Many La Galigo manuscripts do exist and can be found all over the world. The work is so huge that no manuscripts exist that contain the whole work. The La Galigo manuscripts scattered over the globe all contain fragments of the work; some of them are very large episodes, others fairly small ones. From a philological point of view each of these manuscripts is of equal value and importance.

La Galigo is a poetic text set in a strict metre and using a particular Bugis vocabulary. Its language is considered beautiful and difficult. The happenings take place in pre- Islamic (c. 14th-century) Luwuq, the Kingdom regarded as the cradle of Bugis culture. Consisting of different episodes, each with its own protagonists, and covering several generations, the work as a whole is still a unity. The cycle tells the story of the initial residence on earth of the gods and their descendants. Sawérigading is the main protagonists of the story. He makes extensive travels and falls deeply in love with his twin sister. This incestuous love is strictly prohibited and Sawérigading ultimately marries another woman. In the end the whole divine family gathers in Luwuq and all gods depart from the earth, having lived there for six generations. The work contains many implicitly or explicitly stated normative rules, according to which the heroes of the story behave. Apart from these rules, a wealth of useful information is given on etiquette and all kinds of ceremonies.

The main threats to understanding the La Galigo are the disappearing knowledge of both the Bugis script and the language in which the La Galigo has been composed.

In 2011 two important La Galigo manuscripts were inscribed in UNESCO’s Memory of the World register. One manuscript is kept in the La Galigo Museum in Makassar, the other in the University Library of Leiden.