Out of the entire Malay Archipelago, Sulawesi (then known as Celebes) was described as “the most remarkable and interesting [island] in the whole region, or perhaps on the globe.” Alfred Russel Wallace’s words were written over 150 years ago, but still ring true. Indonesia’s fourth biggest island – twice the size of Portugal – boasts unique wildlife (many species first described by the tireless Welsh naturalist) along with its fascinating indigenous cultures. On Sulawesi’s far northern tip you find the volcanic homelands of the Minahasa people, heirs to a wealth of fiery legends and vibrant traditions.
“The name ‘Minahasa’ comes from a local phrase meaning unification, or ‘coming together’,” Elvis Pangemanan, head of the Minahasa Tour Guide Association, tells me. “Once our ancestors were divided into nine feuding clans. Perhaps it is this combination that gives us such a uniquely rich culture.”
You have to assume that the dramatic landscapes that the Minahasan forefathers settled in must have played a part too. The perpetually rumbling volcanic peaks of Lokon and Mahawu make for dramatic backdrops to any trek while Lake Tondano is the most famous beauty-spot in the region.
“Two Minahasan lovers from neighbouring clans ignored the prohibition from their leaders to marry,” Elvis explained. “Apparently, they angered the gods of the volcanoes to such an extent that they exploded, creating this lake.”