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The Age Old History Behind Sulawesi's Blue Eyed villagers

March 7, 2021, 12.39 AM - For the Buton ethnic group on the eponymously named island's East Siompu sub-district, some inhabitants of the village of Kaimbulawa are distinct from their peers - and other Indonesians for that matter.

Visitors to this village of 1,010 people might find a sight that is to be expected among Caucasians - namely bright, blue eyes.

To meet them, one has to go on a lengthy journey, starting with a six hour ferry ride from Kendari, the provincial capital of Southeast Sulawesi, to the town of Baubau in Buton island.

From there, one would take a 40-minute journey by speedboat to Siompu Island, before trekking inland through steep, hilly roads not unlike the Alps.

Also read: Indonesia's Belitung Geopark Set to Receive UNESCO Recognition

The Island is divided into two sub-districts, East Siompu and West Siompu. Located in Southeast Sulawesi Province's South Buton Regency, Siompu island is inhabited by 10,742 people based on a 2018 census from the South Buton Statistics Agency.

A long history

While the experience of meeting blue-eyed villagers in Indonesia might seem a novelty, historian and Butonese cultural expert La Ode Yusrie believed they might date back to the 16th century, when Portuguese traders and explorers made inroads in Sulawesi.  

"[The villagers'] blue eyes are a byproduct of [hundreds of years of]intermarriage between the Butonese and Portuguese colonizers [settling in South Sulawesi]," he said, as quoted by the tourist website. 

"I first heard about [Kaimbulawa] after I researched local dialects in East Siompu along with the Summer Institute Linguistics [SIL] in early 2016. But it was not until six months later that I met the blue-eyed villagers."

Among the villagers are La Dala. With his 180 centimeter height, bright blue eyes, pointed nose and ruddy complexion, the 55-year-old school principal's physical characteristics are more akin to Europeans than most people in East Siompu or the rest of Indonesia. 

Mixing the Siompu and the Portuguese through intermarriage

Illustration of marriage.PEXELS/DEEPAK KHIRODWALA Illustration of marriage.

According to La Dala, the blue-eyed individuals of Siompu can trace their origins to the close relations of the Butonese King Siompu II with Portuguese seafarers.

"King Siompu II married his daughter, princess Wa Ode Kambaraguna, to a Portuguese sailor who is believed to be named Pitter," he said. "The two have several children, include La Ode Raindabula, who is notably tall, fair-skinned and blue eyed."

La Dala noted that La Ode Raindabula is the first generation of the blue eyed people in Siompu. "La Ode Raindabula married a local noble woman and had five children. They include La Ode Pasere, who was my maternal great-grandfather."


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