Sulawesi (also known as Celebes) is the world's eleventh-largest island3 and a part of Indonesia's northern archipelago. Sulawesi's capital is Ujung Pandang,1 and its land area is about 189 square kilometers.2 It is located just south of the Philippines, and is composed of the following provinces:

While a system of tribes served as Sulawesi's government for centuries, Sulawesi's recent history involves Dutch rule (officially beginning in 1870 but in fact starting hundreds of years before), until World War II, when the island came under the control of the Japanese. The apparent interest of the Dutch was the island's wealth of spice. The Dutch accomplished their control through a combination of manipulation, war, and half-hearted alliances with existing native tribes.

Considered for a brief time after World War II to be the island nation of "Netherlands Celebes", Sulawesi was soon incorporated into Indonesia, under whose rule it has remained ever since.2

Sulawesi is best known in popular culture for two reasons, the most prominent of which is its prized coffee, grown in Sulawesi Utara.3, 4 Several coffee companies, (most notably Starbucks), use the name of the island in promoting their Sulawesi-grown coffee products, which fetch a prettier penny than coffee from other areas.

The taste of Starbucks' Sulawesi coffee is, to me, indistinguishable from any of its other self-described "aggressive" coffees, but the Starbucks web site describes their Sulawesi product as "Smooth, buttery, earthy and elegant," 8 though I am of the opinion that such terms are more appropriate for a taupe, satin evening gown.

The (distant) second reason that Sulawesi has received an honorable mention in pop-culture media is the fact that in 1997,5, 6 a UC Berkeley scientist on honeymoon in Sulawesi discovered a coelacanth for sale at a fish market. The coelacanth is an enormous species of fish once thought to be extinct for tens of millions of years -- and there it was, ready to be fileted and eaten by some lucky buyer.

Now, a few coelacanth had actually been discovered in the western Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa in 1938, so the shock in 1997 was not that they still existed. The shock was that a second population existed, 10,000 km to the East of the 1938 find,7 and that in this second (Sulawesi) population, the coelacanth had become so (relatively) abundant that it was being offered for sale at a fish market! Furthermore, the natives had become so familiar with the fish that a pop-culture nickname existed for it: raja laut, or 'King of the Sea'.7 The species had gone from all-but-extinct (in the minds of the Western World scientists), to merely 'hard-to-find'.

Sulawesi's modern population is about 13 Million, and 50 different languages are spoken on the island. In addition to coffee and spice, some metal mining and several other agricultural products comprise the bulk of the Sulawesi economy, including tobacco and rice.2


1. "Sulawesi". Merriam Webster Online.
3. "Sulawesi". Wikipedia.
6. Discovery of the coelacanth in a fish market was made in 1997, but the legitimacy of the find was not confirmed by a team of scientists until mid-1998 - so sometimes the year is quoted as 1998. SEE: Berkeley web site cited in #5, above.

7. From E2 writeup by LordOmar, at the coelacanth node.
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