The Sandeq Race
Fearing that sandeq traditional sailboats would one day disappear, the people of West Sulawesi began organizing an annual sandeq race in 1995. The race, held in mid-August this year, is now known as the Festival Sandeq Race.
HUNDREDS crowded the Labuang Beach in Majene, West Sulawesi, on the third Tuesday of August. As soon as the starting pistol was fired, they ran toward their sailboats and pushed them into the water. Shortly after, they jumped on the boats, paddled, and unfurled their sails to accelerate. Soon the sailboats had departed from the Labuang Beach.
A total of 22 boats set sail from the beach, on sailboats known as the sandeq. The traditional sailboats of West Sulawesi’s Mandar people are made of wood with double bamboo outriggers. The sandeq is far from massive, only 12-13 meters in length and 50-60 centimeters in width.
These traditional sailboats raced from the Labuang Beach to the waters of the Banua Sendana village in Majene, around 35 kilometers away. But not all of the sandeq managed to finish their journey. The strong wind that blew along their route caused several sandeq to capsize, among others Bintang Merdeka, Dewa Laut, Pammase and Surya Persada.
“The wind caused our boat to collide with another boat and capsize,” said Abdullah, a Bintang Merdeka crewman.
It took the rest of the sandeq nearly three hours to finish the race. Ullah, a Masya Allah crewman, said his sailboat and other sandeq were continuously assaulted by forceful wind, which caused increasingly tall waves. “This is why the sailors chose a route close to the coastline,” he said.
The sandeq race was part of the 2018 Festival Sandeq Race, held on August 11-17 in West Sulawesi. The race began at the Bahari Beach, Polewali Mandar, and concluded at the Manakarra Beach, Mamuju—unlike last year’s race, which began at the Manakarra Beach and finished at the Losari Beach in Makassar, South Sulawesi.
Besides the sandeq race, the annual festival also featured a number of events, including art performances, a documentary screening, and a people’s culinary feast.
Like last year, participants in this year’s festival competed in two race categories: triangle and marathon. The triangle race took place at the Bahari Beach, Labuang Beach, and Manakarra Beach. Meanwhile, the marathon race category was further divided into four groups: group 1 (Bahari Beach to Labuang Beach), group 2 (Labuang Beach to the Banua Sendana village), group 3 (Banua Sendana village-Deking Beach, Majene), and group 4 (Deking Beach-Manakarra Beach).
Masya Allah came out as the overall winner in this year’s competition, followed by Cahaya Mandar and Merpati Putih in second and third places.
SANDEQ comes from the Mandar language, meaning “sharp.” The traditional sailboat is thought to have been designed and built in the 1930s by Mandar sailors, who were inspired by Dutch vessels used in trade in the Makassar Strait. The sandeq’s triangular sail is an adaptation as the shape was believed to contribute to speed, not to mention practical when sailing the ocean. The design is complemented with outriggers, the signature of West Sulawesi’s maritime tradition.
According to a sandeq researcher from Germany, Horst H. Liebner, the sandeq was initially created for fast sailing for the purpose of hunting fish, including cakalang, a fish from the Scombridae family. Speed was necessary because the fishermen’s fishing gear could only catch fish on a boat traveling at a speed of 5 knots.
“If [the boat was] not fast, the cakalang wouldn’t have taken to the bait,” said Liebner. Sandeq’s triangular sail is estimated to have the ability to carry the sailboat to a speed of 20 knots, faster than motorboats such as the ketinting.
In the 1980s, sandeq was not only used by Mandar fishermen to hunt fish, but also to trade. Because of its double function, the sandeq’s size grew slightly. But, with time, the sandeq became less favored. For reasons of effectivity and practicality, Mandar fishermen now opt for modern boats when they go out to sea. “Motorboats are more convenient and easier to use,” said Liebner.
Because of these changes, there is concern that the sandeq would one day become extinct, which is why the annual sandeq race in West Sulawesi has been held since 1995. The festival is now known as Festival Sandeq Race. Races begin at the Manakarra Beach and conclude at the Losari Beach.
The race held every August was initiated by Liebner at the suggestion of a number of Mandar fishermen from Majene. The Sandeq researcher Muhammad Ridwan Alimuddin says only 15 sailboats participated in the first sandeq race. But the number of participants grew in subsequent years, and in 2007 reached its highest number with 53 sailboats joining the race. After 2007, around 20 sandeq would participate in the annual race.
Ridwan believes that the festival has helped preserved the sandeq. “If it weren’t for the competition, the sandeq would have been abandoned. Especially because no sandeq is still used to catch fish,” he said.
Apart from aiming to preserve Mandar’s maritime tradition, the sandeq race is held to hone sailors’ skills, from navigation to analyzing current and wind patterns. But the race instead became a competition between sailors.
“This is only a competition of pride because it’s held once a year,” said Masdar, a sandeq sailor.
As of late, the sandeq race has given rise to a number of innovations to the sailboat’s shape. According to Liebner, sandeq sailors now build slimmer and lighter boats—such as the sandeq used in the race—to create sailboats that are more agile.
Furthermore, sandeq sailors have come up with an innovative way to preserve boat paint. A kind of lime and glue are mixed to ensure that the paint last longer. “In the old days, boats were painted every two months, but now [the paint] can last up to one year,” said Liebner.
Sandeq are usually painted white as a symbol of cleanliness, with the hope that the color would be favored by many. In Mandar, a white sandeq is known as “lopi sandeq malolo,” meaning “the beautiful sandeq boat is white.”
“White paint also helps prevent boats from decaying faster because it reflects heat,” said Ridwan Alimuddin.
Sandeq sailors require at least 10 days to prepare for the race. Additionally, sailors also perform a kind of ritual in their own home prior to the competition. “The ritual is for safety,” said Masdar, a sandeq sailor from the village of Galung Tulu in the Mandar Polewali Regency, West Sulawesi.
According to Masdar, every sandeq sailor performs a unique ritual. Some would sit on a chair, take a green rope and tie it around the head. Others would fast for one day prior to the competition.
On the day of the competition, each boat’s crewmen will perform a ritual of walking together to a sandeq sailor’s home where they will convene and pray before proceeding to the home of the boat’s owner.
The sandeq’s owner will also perform a ritual, convening crew members and the community. While incense sticks are lit and prayer is recited, a variety of food and snacks are presented on trays, such as bananas, fish, eggs, white and black sticky rice, white rice, and biscuits.
After prayer, the incense sticks burnt with coconut husks are given to the sandeq sailors to be placed in a hole at the center of the sandeq, known as the “boat’s belly.” The food trays are then presented near the sandeq, while the boat’s owner and sailors recite a prayer and spray water on the center and both ends of the boat.
“All of this is so that the sandeq won’t experience problems during the journey,” said Syarifuddin, a sandeq owner.
DIDIT HARIYADI (MAKASSAR), ARIF BUDIANTO (MAMUJU), PRIHANDOKO