What is Phinisi
Phinisi is the name of a traditional Indonesian sailing ship that can trace its roots to the Bugis people, an ethnic group of seafarers from South Sulawesi. This picturesque wooden vessel has two main masts and seven sails, implying that Indonesia’s ancestral sailors navigated all seven of the world’s largest seas.
As respected sailors and expert shipbuilders, the Buginese possess an uncanny understanding of the sea. Their wooden phinisi ships have safely carried them all around the Indonesian archipelago as well as to many parts of the globe.
Legend has it that the first phinisi was commissioned during the 14th century by a crown prince of South Sulawesi. He used it to sail to China where he proposed to and eventually wed a beautiful princess. On his return voyage, the ship was struck by a giant wave that broke it into pieces scattering it to three different areas. This incident was seen a divine message to the Bugis people that they must cooperate to conquer the sea. Consequently, each community has always assumed a different responsibility in the specialized art of boat building that continues until present day.
During the construction process of a phinisi, various rituals must be carried out in accordance to local belief and tradition. First is choosing an auspicious day to source and cut all of the wood required. Typically, the fifth and seventh day of each month are considered lucky. Then there is a symbolic cutting ceremony for the elongated beam that forms the bottom of the ship whereby special offerings are used to call upon protective spirits.
Once the ship is built, another ceremony is performed to celebrate its completion. A bouquet of different leaves soaked in water are brushed onto all surfaces to repel negative energy. For ships that weigh more then 100 tons, it is normal practice for a cow or goat to be sacrificed. Only upon completion of this ritual is the ship considered sea worthy and it will then be towed into the water at sunrise during high tide as prayers and mantras are chanted.