Ritual and ceremony in the 21st Century
Today the term Phinisi is also applied to very big, motorised timber ships which are still hand-built in the South Sulawesi tradition by Bugis or Makassan shipwrights who trade all over Indonesia. Enormous trading vessels weighing over 500 tonnes are still built on beaches by the heirs of the Phinisi custom in the 21 century.
Today, the builders might incorporate some modern technology into the construction process to speed things up a little but essentially what they do has changed little. The dynamic and evolving design of this legendary boat still embraces ancient ritual and ceremony and these are central to UNESCO’s recognition. The Phinisi was originally never built to drawn plans but was created miraculously using a series of proportions memorised by master builders combined with ritual, prayer and ceremony.
The original designs were made using timber planks that were cut and sculpted using an adze and chisel with each piece being distinctively shaped and named before being fastened by wooden pegs or bindings of rattan. No iron fastenings or saws were used at all.
These amazing vessels have evolved and changed along with demands of the world showing an organic resilience as deep as the ocean itself. Moreover, this spirit of innovation coupled with (slightly ironically) a respect for cultural customs makes the Phinisi a fitting emblem for Indonesia and it appears on everything from banknotes to bags of rice.