From the enchanting waters overlooking the capital city of Makassar up into the highland of Toraja, South Sulawesi is a land blessed with fascinating splendours. While nature provides the settings that are glorious, the native men and women presents an equally fascinating culture. Among the well preserved cultural traditions of South Sulawesi take shape from the Pakarena Dance Makassar. Originated from the old sultanate of Gowa in today’s Gowa regency, Pakarena is said to be derived from the term karena, meaning to Play, in the local language. The dancing appears to have been spread widely through the region, thus several variations are found based on location.
Amongst these are Pakarena Gantarang, Pakarena Balla Bulo and Pakarena Bontobangung. The dancing also changes in accordance with the kind of performance. Among them are the Pakarena Royongwhich is strictly conducted during ritual ceremonies, and the Pakarena bone balloon that can be carried out at anytime. Pakarena conveys the elegance of the Makassar cultural women symbolizing their politeness, devotion, obedience and respect towards their spouses. The dance consists of 12 parts that have their very own different meanings, but they’re difficult to differentiate by untrained eyes, since the patterns seem to be similar. The seated position which begins and ends the performance, and also the clock clever movement represents the cycle of human life.
Whilst the ascending and descending movements symbolize the wheel of life, sometimes we’re at the top, while at other times we’re down. In all the choreographies, the dancers hold and play the different traditional fan. The dancing has a distinctive principle: dancers shouldn’t open their eyes too broad and their feet should not be lifted too high. There are no definite rules on the number of performers, but the Pakarena Balla Bulo is only played in odd numbers of 9, 7, or even 5. The dancing is accompanied by the vibrant music played by a set of Gendang percussion, Kanong kanong, gong, kancing, and pui.
For the performance, dancers wear colorful traditional costumes consisting of: the hands woven Baju Pahang, the finely woven lipa sabe, complemented by elaborate gold accessories from South Sulawesi. There are no official records indicating when was the very first time the dancing appeared. However, it’s known that Pakarena was a formal royal dance throughout the reign of Sultan Hasanudin, the sixteenth Sultan of Gowa. The dancing is believed to have been influenced by the mother of the Sultan, I Li’mokantu. Many Makassarese believes that Pakarena dance could have its origin at the legend of the parting between boting langi and the people of lino.