On March, 15 2015, I and my siblings visited Leang-Leang Village, Maros, South Sulawesi, Indonesia. This UNESCO World Heritage site has been my tourism crush since months ago. It was due to the mystery it holds behind the veils of pre-history. Thus, I flied from Jakarta to visit my origin in intention to witness the famous karst and the art-cave with my own eyes.
We reached Leang-Leang after one hour road-trip from Makassar. As I walked in that preserved area, the presence of post-ice-age-impact embodied by the karstic limestone that stood up high upon my head. The highest top scaled up the surface. Whereas the cliff-like stones depicted under-water activity that caused erosion thousand years ago. Rivers flowing down the side of this landscape.
When I climbed to the Leang Pettakere, mountain-like karst where the cave located, I finally see the painting with my own eyes. As how it was depicted by the archeologist, The painting was red-mulberry colored portraying vast tiny palm and a pig-deer (extinct animal used to inhabited in a Wallace Zone). Based on the radio-carbon investigation report, the art-cave was made around 40.000 to 39.000 years ago. There was a great satisfaction to witness the heritage. However, a bigger question prompted in my mind. Who made it?
The Mystery of The Art Cave of Leang Pettakere
Art-cave is identical with prehistoric human. In the effort to position the art-cave in Leang Pettakere, I examined a profound researched conducted by Australian Lecturer and Indonesian Researcher from University of Wollongong in 2011. The researchers theorized the art as a legacy of Homo Erectus originated from Africa. Homo Erectus was deemed as human ancestor and their primordial culture considered closed to modern civilization. Well, it is true that some prehistoric fossils founded in Java which is later known as Homo Erectus Paleojavanicus. However, these primordial inhabitant never reached South Sulawesi and transmigrated straight to Eastern Indonesia. It was the reason why there has been no excavation to prove Homo Erectus ever set foot on the land of South Sulawesi until its extinction.
The other research related the Art Cave was an article written by Victoria Woollaston and Jonathan O’Callaghan. They incited that the similar art-cave founded in northern Spain. Based on the article, it seemed easier to guess who the artist was. Yes, It was Neanderthal and the art cave of Leang Pettakere was likely found enlightement. It was a good hypothesis as well to explain about small size of the hand stencil. Nevertheless, it is proved that Neanderthal extincted when modern human invaded Europe in 40.000 years ago before they migrate around 13.000 miles away to South Sulawesi. Besides, if reflected to the Wollongong University researchers, it is assumed that the paintings both in Spain and Indonesia were developed independently.
Giving up with the science, I seeked alternative in folklore. Indegenous people believed in the presence of shaman, an archaic physician who tended to retreat to the cave in order to reach trans-state. It is told that, when the shaman confined himself, their trans state tended to conjure some projection of the life and the world. This vision then transmitted into a figuritive drawings or abstract painting as we saw in Leang Pettakere. Yet, there was a contradiction between the folklore and the history. Since, history told that the indegenous people in South Sulawesi called “To Ugi” freshly arrived at South Sulawesi from Yunan just in the year 5000 A.C.E. They communally inhabited around Lake Tempe before they spreaded as Buginese to other area throughout the Island such as Maros. The tribe then developed into small institutional population before thriving to be greater kingdom. Hence, there was a gap between the making of the art and the arriving of the artist.
As a result, I took conclusion that the art-cave of Leang Pettakere probably chose to remain as mist of pre-history. Maybe for the next one hundred years or event the one thousand years. Until then, as a citizen who care about our national heritage, let’s help the government to preserve the site and to promote it to the world.