The Lontar Foundation and The Bali Purnati Center for the Arts Book
The Birth of I La Galigo
A Poem inspired by The Bugis legend of the same name

Indonesian language text by Sapardi Djoko Damono
English language text by John H. McGlynn
based on an adaptation of the Bugis text by Mohamad Salim


Many of the ethnic groups of the Indonesian archipelago have produced thousands of great works of literature in a variety of languages and alphabets. One of which has captured the attention of experts is I La Galigo, the masterwork of the Bugis people, written in Bugis language and script. This text, also known as Sureg Galigo or Sureg Seleang, contains the Bugis myth that tells the life stories of Datu Patoto, Batara Guru, as well as the stories of their families and predecessors. This work is considered by experts in the field of the ancient texts of the Indonesian archipelago to be one of the great masterworks in the world, not only because is covers a wide range of issues that humanity faces, but first and foremost because of it’s length, which exceeds other great work of classic literature, such as India’s Mahabharata by Valmiki and Greece’s Odyssey by homer. The text consists of about 300,000 lines, longer than the 200,000 lines of Mahabharata. this lengthy work is divided into several tereng or episode. this episode most widely known by the Bugis people is the one that depicts the marital relationship between Sawerigading and a princess I We Cudai. Born from this union is the personage whom the text was eventually named after, I La Galigo

In this core, this literary work brings forth the Bugis people’s idea of cosmology, which divides the world into three spheres: the Sky, the Earth, and the Underworld. Using the characters in the story, this text underlines the existence of complex relationship between the three spheres. When the world was still empty, before it was even populated by man - even before it existed - the Gods in the sky decided to send Batara Guru, a fellow god, down to Mayapada to create and rule over man, as well as the world. There is interesting reasoning to be found here, which is the realization that, without anyone to worship them, gods wouldn’t be gods. That is why man had to be created. The beginning of this literary work present an idea on the process of creation. In order to have descendants, Batara Guru later married his cousin, We Nyilik Timo, who came from the Underworld; the correlation between air, earth and water is reflected through the marital relationships between the denizens of the three realms. (…)


The Birth Of I La Galigo
copyright 2005
The Lontar Foundation and The Bali Purnati Center For The Arts


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