Sandeq outrigger-craft are the pride of the Mandar people, a lesser known ethnic group of about 1.500.000 people of courageous sailors, fishermen and merchants who inhabit the three districts of Polewali, Majene and Mamuju, 250-500km to the north of the Sulawesi’s main city Makassar - and yet, today the better part of these outstandingly elegant and swift craft "would be turned into firewood if there weren't the Sandeq Race", as the village head of Pambusuang, one of the centres of the local fishing industries, once put it. While today the very last surviving work-boats are engaged in short-haul offshore fishing in the Gulf of Mandar, in the 1970ies and 80ies hundreds of these outstanding seaboats were employed for all kind of maritime activities, from week-long open sea fishing ventures (with their major fishing grounds on the reefs SE of Kalimantan) to transport of cargo and passengers along both coasts of the Straits of Makassar. Modernisation doesn't stop before 'traditional' villages in forlorn corners of this world: Hence, during the last decade most fishermen replaced their sandeq with motorboats.
The word sandeq translates as ‘pointed’, referring to the sharp bow of the boat. The narrow hull and the huge sail area are fashioned for fast running under sail: With a favouring wind these boats can speed up to 25 knot, about 50 km/h. The fully-decked hull prevents waves from breaking into the boat and even in a rough sea provides a dry sleeping space for three to four sailors as well as room for stores for several weeks.
Outrigger craft like the sandeq are a 5000 years old design which enabled the Austronesian tribes to settle the islands of Indonesia in a craft seaworthy enough to sail over long stretches of open sea. The sandeq therefore continues an ancient heritage of boat-building and navigation which even influenced Western naval architecture: The modern trimaran and catamaran have been modelled after Austronesian vessels.
On the other hand, sandeq are an excellent example for the dynamics which direct traditions that are still alive. As a boat type, about the 1930ies the sandeq was developed out of the pakur, a tanjaq (‘oblong fore-and-aft sail’)-rigged outrigger vessel in the line of the famous kora-kora of the Moluccas, by copying the fin sails of the Dutch racing dinghies Mandar sailors had seen in Makassar. To accommodate backstays which would not hamper the sail, the outrigger beams of the pakur were moved more to the bows, and the hulls increasingly sharpened to distribute the driving power of the new sail type. When after 1965 Indonesia’s economy was opened again for the World’s markets, the availability of monofilament fishing line supplied the sailors with a new and endurable lashing material for floats and beams, and the size of the sandeq could be steadily increased – only the upmost length of available bamboo trunks for floats, about 14m, would eventually limit the hulls to about 12m. With lashed floats and beams, the sandeq is a very flexible yet tough sea boat, which -as fragile as it seems- without much problems stands winds up to Bft.6 and waves of up to 2m heights.
For Mandar sailors a boat is not only a vehicle of sea-transport, but also, an allegory of traditional philosophy and beliefs: The macrocosms of the intelligible world are reflected in the microcosms of a boat and its sailors. All sandeq are said to have a spiritual guardian who is inaugurated in a series of ceremonies connected with the building of a vessel that mirrors a wealth of convictions concerning boats and the sea. The sea itself is believed to be inhabited by spirits and godly beings, and the associated taboos and restrictions place mankind in harmony with the environment.
In many a village one finds boats which are especially designed for racing, and the fame of being winner of a race is the pride of the owner of the boat and his hamlet. However, these races also serve as a vehicle for preserving the wealth of traditional knowledge of sailing and navigation: As the one of the competitors of the Sandeq Race 1995 explained, ‘‘On my boat I carry my sons only. As old as I am, this is perhaps my last chance to teach them the ways of sailing and racing a sandeq and all the knowledge, tricks and manoeuvres which they may use when out fishing.’’ Hopefully, in today's increasingly changing world the maritime lore of the Mandar sailors may be preserved, and for generations to come will still be one of the multitude of shades of the maritime traditions of Our World.