The most important economic resource in Sulawesi are the palm trees.
In the highlands of Sulawesi (Indonesia), the island in the shape of an orchid, the rice fields are ready to be harvested.
For centuries, this has been the home of the Toraja, an Indonesian ethnic group structured in a very hierarchical society, and ruled over by nobles called “puangs”.
Rice, along with the coconut palm, is the base of their economy, and even the tiniest scrap of land is used to grow it. For centuries, they have gradually sculpted terraces along the valleys and mountains, creating in the process one of the most beautiful landscapes in Asia. The land here is rich and generous, and in a good year it is possible to obtain three crops. But this dominance of rice cultivation is relatively recent. In the past, these people lived by hunting and gathering, and their constant tribal conflicts forced them to adopt a nomadic lifestyle. But, with the arrival of the Dutch empire, peace returned to the island, and its inhabitants began to settle and cultivate the land.
Though the Portuguese were the first to arrive on the island, in 1512, the Dutch began to impose their supremacy from 1607, when Sulawesi became an important province of the Dutch East Indies Company, a government enterprise whose monopoly extended from the Cape of Good Hope to the Magellan Straits.
These companies were created in Western Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in order to exploit trade with Asia, and the most important of them had deeds of constitution granted by their respective governments, which authorised them to acquire territories and exercise government functions over them.
On the lowlands, the rice fields give way to the palm groves, the most important economic resource in Sulawesi. Thanks to the palm, its people are among the most prosperous in Indonesia, especially in the north, where alongside the coconut palms there are plantations growing coffee, vanilla and cloves.
The possibilities these trees offer the inhabitants of the island are almost unlimited: they eat the flesh of the coconut, and drink the milk; they use the wood of the trunk to build their houses; the palm leaves serve to make roofs, hammocks, baskets and ropes; and the oil is used for cooking and lighting, and is sold to the cosmetics multinationals to make soaps, perfumes, moisturisers, and even nitroglycerine.