About to settle down in a village in South-Sulawesi, I still had no idea that I was about to experience the paradise of not just Adam and Eve, but the paradise of gender pluralism.
Straight endless roadside is fringed with similar cafes (or locally, warungs) that provide almost entirely the same items, like instant noodles or local coconut sweet. Warung’s are all numbered, at the moment I’m sitting in a warung number 799. It’s raining, it has been raining for the entire day, as we drove on motorcycles through South-Sulawesi. The guys dropped me off couple of hours ago in one of these cafeterias by the endless road near a village of Pangkep. It is going to be a long awaited meeting. I have been chewing it in my imagination. Because I think that what I’m going to face with soon sais something unique not only in the context of Bugis culture, Sulawesi island or Indonesia, but it represents something more complex, and yet universal. I’m waiting to meet someone that not only makes me especially adore the Bugis’ culture, but I’ve always felt that this represents a unique way to speak of something universal.
The culture of the Bugis people has been able to overcome the binary notion of gender. Next to women and men there are also some space for these folks that rather take up the behavioral characteristics of the (some) other gender, but that does not necessarily mean that they want to transcend to other gender, to swap things. Calalai is thus a born woman who behaves much like the men in the community (also known as Hunter) and Calabai is a born man who acts like a woman. Calabai is thus a waria in South Sulawesi. And, as I have noted before, just like on the island of Java, here also the main concern for a calabai is not to be exactly like cis women in society, but it has also become a separate gender category with its own playground.
In addition, there is still another gender category here – this is the bissu who should be a para-gender, which not only combines different features of the other genders in the society, but it also connects the supernatural world.
I’m surrounded by curious local village people, that find it difficult to place me in their standardized framework of knowledge – where did I get the contact of the bissu Eka? How did I come here? Who were the people who dropped me here? Am I married? Am I studying? And also – when will I return back to my kampung. Kampung is the local word for neighbourhood.
“Your Kampung, there in Europe. Can I come with you? “
It was raining like a sticky evening.
Some time after midnight bissu Eka finally arrived. There was a man with sexy mustache behind the wheel next to her and some 5-6 pairs of eyes peeping out under the plastic over the back of the truck. Eka made me a nice couch in her salon, a huge spider under my bed, and she woke me up early in the morning to take a look at this fresh bride&groom. Make-up and dress by young calabai Upe (dressed in yellow on the photo).
Stay tuned for more soon!