Also known as Sangeang Village, Wera is located around 60km north of Bima, on the north-east tip of Sumbawa. A small, quiet coastal village, Sangeang and the nearby island of Sangeang Api are one of only two locations in Indonesia carrying on traditional wooden boat building. The other is Tanah Beru and Tanjung Bira in Bulukumba region, South Sulawesi.
Like their fellow tradesmen in South Sulawesi, the boat builders of Sangeang are descendants of the famed Bugis sea gypsies. Originating from Sulawesi, the Bugis plied the waters throughout SE Asia, fishing and trading spices and other goods the length and breadth of the Indonesian archipelago and as far away as Malaysia, the Philippines and Australia.
Master mariners and skilled boat builders, the Bugis developed distinctive small wooden, single sail craft, especially suited to the shallow seas and changeable winds of the Indonesian archipelago. The single or double masted, motorised wooden cargo boats that form the backbone of Indonesia’s present day inter-island transport system, are a larger modernised incarnation of those centuries old Bugis designs.
Known as phinisi boats, they’re a common sight throughout Indonesia, carrying every type of cargo imaginable from timber, cement, house tiles, rice, sugar, motorbikes and common household items. Others have been pressed into service as liveaboard tourist boats.
Very few phinisi boats are identical and size various anywhere from 40-130 feet in length. The most common timber is Iron Wood (Kayu Besi) which is sourced from Borneo, central and south Sulawesi or West Papua.
Although some modern tools are employed in the building process, phinisi boats are still constructed on the beach using traditional techniques handed down through the centuries. Starting with the keel, thick wooden planks are joined using hand-shaped wooden pegs hammered in hand-drilled holes until gradually, the distinctive hull begins to take shape, and not a single blueprint in sight.
The sight of these traditional wooden vessels in various stages of construction sprawled along the black sand beach at Wera leaves a lasting impression. Although the number and sizes of vessels ebbs and flows in line with demand, we were assured that there are always one or two boats under construction and sometimes as many as six.
We found the boat builders friendly and more than happy to show off their skills. The village women are equally skilled weavers and offer handcrafted sarongs for sale. Although the villagers have become used to tourists dropping by in recent years, by car or boat, visitors are still rare so expect your curiosity to be returned. Be aware though, that very few of the tradesman or villagers speak English so it is best to travel with a guide/interpreter.
Wera Sangeang Village can be reached by private car in around 1.5 hours from Bima. Alternatively, public buses operate daily in both directions, departing periodically between 7:00AM and 2:00PM. Buses from Bima depart from the bus station and takes between 2-2.5 hours. There is no accommodation in Wera. However, the village is a comfortable day trip from Bima with pleasant coastal and gorgeous lush green valley scenery along the way. Drinks and snacks can be purchased from the village shop.
Whilst the Bugis were highly respected seafarers, they were also feared pirates and slavers, regularly preying on the trading ships of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and the British East India Company. They were often referred to as the “Bugi-men” by fearful European sailors; a term that later evolved into the “bogeyman.”