Gender in Bugis society is traditionally viewed on a spectrum of five genders: makkunrai, oroané, calabai, calalai, and bissu. Where makkunrai and oraoné are comparable to the Western concepts of a binary female and male, respectively, the genders calabai, calalai, and bissu fall into neither Western male nor female. Other interpretations liken calabai to transgender women and calalai to transgender men.[1] These gender labels have been around for roughly over six centuries, hailing from a pre-Islamic Indonesia, and they played major roles in pre-Islamic Bugis society.[2] Traditional Bugis beliefs suggest that all five genders must maintain balance for world order.[3]



The tradition of categorizing gender in a system of five labels has existed for at least the past 600 years, if not further.[2] This has been recorded through both oral and written history dating back as far as the sixteenth century.[4] Traditionally, people of different gender identities will play different gender roles, not necessarily but usually, similar to the concept of complementarianism.[1]


Makunrai & oraoné[]

Makunrai and oraoné are usually compared to cisgender men and women. The roles that they play within traditional Buginese society can be particular to Buginese society; in most regards, when compared to Western concepts of binary cis men and women, they fill the same social niche.[1]


Calalai is a gender that can be equated to "trans man", "female man",[2] "false man",[3] or "female-born individuals who identify as neither woman nor man".[1] Calalai usually play the role similar to or the same as oraoné or men within Bugis society. However, when it comes to binary prayer, some calalai pray as women as "to be recognized by god".[3] As an example, a calalai named Rani lives alongside men: making kris, working as a blacksmith, dressing as a man, and adopting a child with hir wife.[4]


Calabai is a gender identity that can be equated to "trans woman", "male woman",[2] "false woman",[3] or "male-born individuals who identify as neither woman nor man".[1] Calabai usually adopt the familial roles expected of makunrai or women within the family unit of traditional Buginese society. Compared to calalai, calabai have a more independent gender role niche within Bugis society, being more separate from the makunrai or female gender identity.[3] One example of a job played usually by a calabai is indo' boting or "wedding mother", who play the role of a wedding planner.[4]


Bissu is one of the most prominent genders within Buginese society. Being bissu is usually connected to being intersex; however, some say that due to the spiritual role of bissu, one can become bissu through training and prayer.[2] Being bissu is spiritually important thanks to the balance they have between being both male and female. Some Buginese people believe that it is important for priests to have both male and female aspects because they cannot know whether God is either male or female, so it is most appropriate to have a bissu be a priest.[3] Bissu would traditionally be in charge of things like prayers as well as deciding on and coronating the king of the Bugis kingdom.[4]

There are many legends surrounding the origins of bissu on earth passed down by oral tradition. One example is the legend of how people came to be. God wanted to populate the Earth and so sent the god Batara Guru to accomplish the mission. However, Batara Guru is not good at organizing, so two bissu went down to assist with the creation of society by creating language, culture, adat, and all of the things the world needs to blossom.[4]

Like other non-binary Bugis genders in the modern day, bissu are heavily oppressed and erased by violent and discriminatory attitudes towards LGBTQIA+ people. In 2022, the population of people identifying as bissu had reduced from dozens of people to just 5.[2]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Gender Diversity in Indonesia Sexuality, Islam and Queer Selves [ed. 1] by "Davies, Sharyn Graham". Published 2011 by Routledge. ISBN 9780415695930.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 "Homophobia and rising Islamic intolerance push Indonesia's intersex bissu priests to the brink" by Ibrahim, Farid M on <>. Published 2019-02-27 by ABC. (no backup information provided)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 "The Bugis Five Genders and Belief in a Harmonious World" by June, Karlana on <>. Published 2015-02-23 by Prezi. (no backup information provided)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 "Sex, Gender, and Priests in South Sulawesi, Indonesia" by Graham, Sharyn on <>. Published Nov 2002. (no backup information provided)