Indonesia’s ‘all-gendered’ priests on verge of extinction

Indonesia's 'all-gendered' priests on verge of extinction

The community is now within the brink of annihilation, seeing their amounts dissolve into the vast majority Bugis ethnic team in South Sulawesi.

Bugis people believe in five genders: “makkunrai” or even cis woman; “oroane” or cis guy; “calabai” or men who take on conventional roles for women; “calalai” or women who take on traditionally man roles; and the “Bissu”, who are neither male nor female but embody all sexes.

Older Bissu have died minus financial or cultural support, not enough of the younger generation are replacing them.

The remaining few, nevertheless , are trying to keep their heritage alive.


At the pond, bordering a lush green rice field, Nani led the Mappalili ritual and chanted a plea as other Bissu in bright cotton blouses, headdresses plus embroidered skirts wandered behind in a parade.

The Bissu performed a dance to the beat of a drum before stabbing themselves with a thin, long dagger known as a keris, appearing as though they were in a trance.

To become a Bissu, one must get “Pammase”, or a direct calling from God. You cannot join the city by marriage or even birth.

They have to then undergo substantial training to perform different rituals and learn a secret language only Bissu can understand.

Many Bissu say they get enlightenment from Lord through their dreams.

In one such dream, Julaeha, which goes by one title, told AFP these were sick for two months in a delirious state in which they saw a man riding the horse telling them to join the community.

“I felt like my soul was floating, ” they said.


The Bissu once lived a booming life. They were revered and owned countries granted by the Bugis Kingdom that forwent the modern-day Indonesian state.

“Bissu held a very important part during the kingdom period. They were considered the intermediaries between The almighty and the people, ” anthropologist Lathief stated.

But now, along with little money to be made, the attraction of becoming a member of the community has dwindled.

Some of the Bissu community now make a living working regular work opportunities such as doing wedding make-up.