Pre-Islamic Chronologies

Ian Caldwell

One of the primary problems in dealing with the earlier sections of Bugis and Makasar historical texts is that of chronology. Islamic or Christian years are almost never given, and most texts do not provide reigh lengths. Backdating - developing a standard reign length and applying it to sources - is a vital technique. Provided one can establish a reliable average reign lengh, the technique has the advantage of developing an increasing accuracy the further back it is applied. A small degree of overlap beween sources enables allows adjustment in order to produce chronological stability between different political-historical traditions. 

The period generally used for backdating an undated king list is between twenty-five and thirty-three and one-third years (cf. Alcock 1971:11, Desborough 1972:324, Snodgrass 1971:11). Considering the large number of inter-kingdom conflicts during the sixteenth century (Andaya 1981, Chapter One; Pelras 1977, passim), thirty years seems too high a figure. One must also differentiate between a king list, in which a ruler may not be the offspring of the previous ruler, but a brother, uncle, or a usurper, and a genealogy in which individuals are laid out in strict generational order. Studies of the modern human generation time suggest a value of 30 years per generation for the latter (Fenner 2005), while the chronicles of Wajoq, Goa-Talloq and Bone, which are built around king lists and record resignations, dethronements, interregnums, murders, usurpations, and close kin succeeding to the throne, suggest a considerably shorter period for generational backdating.

The most useful and detailed of the South Sulawesi sources for an analysis of reign length are the Wajoq chronicles (Noorduyn 1955; Abdurrazak 1964; Zainal Abidin 1985). In these chronicles, reign lengths are specified for the majority of Wajoq’s rulers and there is little disagreement between texts.  Counting backwards from c.1600, reign lengths are: La Sangkuru 11, La Mungkaca 30 or 40, La Pakkoko 3, La Mappapolé 17, La Warani 5, La Temmassongé 2, To Nampé 11, La Tadampareq 30, La Tenritumpu 5, and La Obi Settiriwareq 5. These ten rulers average just 12.9 years, even if we accept the higher figure for La Mungkaca. The Bone chronicle provides reign-lengths for six of rulers before 1600, namely La Umasa 17, Kerrampélua 72, Makkalempié 15, La Tenrisukki 27, La Ulio 25, and La Tenriawé 20: the average is 29.3 years. The Goa chronicle lists Tumapaqrisiq Kallonna 36, Tunipalangga 18, Tunibatta 0 and Tunijalloq 24, while the closely related chronicle of Talloq lists Tuménanga ri Makkoayang 30 and I Sambo 13 – some are estimates (Reid 1983:132-133) – resulting in a combined average reign length of 20.2 years. Summing all these known reign lengths (426) and dividing by the number of rulers (22) gives an average reign length of 19.36 years, fully a third less than the figure  proposed for an analysis of strictly generational genealogies. Between chronicles, the standard reign length varies from 15 to just over 20 years.

A figure of 20 years may even be on the high side for Wajoq, a perennially unstable region with no natural geographic centre of control, but perhaps also on the low side for kingdoms that lay on fertile plains with natural points of control, and thus greater political stability. Nevertheless, the figure of 19.36 years is remarkably close to the average of 19.8 years for the recorded reign lengths of the 34 kings and queens of England from 924 to 1603.  A firm starting point for backdating in South Sulawesi is the well-documented conversion to Islam of the rulers of its kingdoms in the first two decades of the seventeenth century. 

Reign-dates obtained by backdating listed in the attached working genealogies are approximate. Interestingly, given the dichotomy between backdating suggested by genalogies (30 years) and king lists (20 years), a period of 25 years is often the most effective in matching early genealogical information to the archaeological data. The latter points to around 1300 or slightly earlier for the beginning of complex society in South Sulawesi. A standard reign length of 25 years is therefore used when no other information serves to guide the historian. Certain problematic individuals, such as Bottoé, who on the evidence of the chronicle of Bone ruled between 1539-64, yet whose reign overlaped those of other rulers covering the periods 1550-75,  1561-84 and 1567-1607, means that backdating remains as much an art as a science.


Abdurrazak, Daeng Patunru. 1964. Sedjarah Wadjo. Makassar: Yayasan Kebudayaan Sulawesi Selatan dan Tenggara. (Reprinted 1983 as Sejarah Wajo.)

Alcock, L. 1971. Arthur’s Britain. History and archaeology A.D. 367-634. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books.

Andaya, L. 1981. The heritage of Arung Palakka. A history of South Sulawesi (Celebes) in the seventeenth century. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

Desborough, V. 1972. The Greek dark age. London: Ernest Benn.

Fenner, J. 2005. Cross-cultural estimation of the human generation interval for use in genetics-based population divergence studies. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 128: 415–423.

Noorduyn, J. 1955. Een achttiende-eeuwse kroniek van Wadjo’. Buginese historiography. ‘s-Gravenhage: H.L. Smits.

Pelras, C. 1977. Les premiéres données occidentales concernant Célébes-Sud. Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land en Volkenkunde 133(2&3): 227-260.

Snodgrass, A. 1971. The Dark Age of Greece. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Zainal Abidin, Andi. 1985. Wajo’ pada abad XV-XVI. Suatu penggalian sejarah terpendam Sulawesi Selatan dari lontara’. Bandung: Penerbit Alumni.