Lontara script


The Lontara script (ᨒᨚᨈᨑ, pronounced /'lɔntaraʔ/), also known as the Bugis script due to its use in many historic Bugis documents or urupu sulapa eppa "four-cornered letters" due to its general shape, is one of Indonesia's traditional scripts developed in the South Sulawesi region. The script is primarily used to write Buginese, followed by Makassarese, and Mandar. In the course of its development it has also been used, with some modifications, to write several other languages outside of Sulawesi such as Bima, Ende, and Sumbawa.[1] This script is a descendant of Brahmi through Kawi intermediary.[2] The script was actively used by several South Sulawesi societies for day-to-day and literary texts from at least mid-15th Century CE until the mid-20th Century CE, before its function was gradually supplanted by the Latin alphabet. Today the script is taught in South Sulawesi Province as part of the local curriculum, but with very limited function in everyday use.

Lontara', Lontaraq, Bugis, Urupu Sulapa Eppa
Kata lontara.png
Script type
Time period
16th century – present
Directionleft-to-right Edit this on Wikidata
LanguagesBuginese, Makassarese, Mandar, (slightly modified for Bima, Ende, and Sumbawa)
Related scripts
Parent systems
Sister systems
Baybayin scripts
Old Sundanese
ISO 15924
ISO 15924Bugi, 367 Edit this on Wikidata, ​Buginese
Unicode alias
 This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and ⟨ ⟩, see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.


Lontara manuscript

Lontara is a descendant of the Kawi script, used in Maritime Southeast Asia around 800 CE. It is unclear whether the script is a direct descendant from Kawi, or derived from one of Kawi's other descendants. One theory states that it is modelled after the Rejang script, perhaps due to their graphical similarities. But this claim may be unfounded as some characters of the Lontara are a late development.[3]

The term Lontara has also come to refer to literature regarding Bugis history and genealogy, including the Sure’ Galigo creation myth. Historically, Lontara was also used for a range of documents including contracts, trade laws, treaties, maps, and journals. These documents are commonly written in a contemporary-like book form, but they can be written in a traditional palm-leaf manuscript also called Lontara, in which a long, thin strip of dried lontar is rolled to a wooden axis in similar manner to a tape recorder. The text is then read by scrolling the lontar strip from left to right.[4]

Lontara in South Sulawesi appears to have first developed in Bugis area of the Cenrana-Walannae region at about 1400. Writing may have spread to other parts of the South Sulawesi from this region, but the possibility of independent developments cannot be dismissed. What is evident is that the earliest written records for which there is any evidence were genealogical.[5]

When paper became available in South Sulawesi in the early 17th century, Lontara script, which previously had to be written straight, angled-corner and rigid on palm leaves, could now be written faster and more variedly using ink on paper. It is worth noting that R.A. Kern (1939:580-3) writes that modified curved letters in the Lontara script one finds written on paper do not appear to have been used in the palm-leaf Bugis manuscripts he examined.[6]

Through the efforts of Dutch Linguist, B.F. Matthes, printing types of the Bugis characters, designed and cast in Rotterdam in the mid-19th century, were used from that time onwards for printing in both the South Celebes capital, Makasar, and Amsterdam. They were also used as models for teaching the script in schools, first in Makasar and environs, and then gradually in other areas of South Celebes. This process of standardization clearly influenced the later handwriting of the script. As a standard style of the script emerged, previously existing variations disappeared.[7] And by the end of the 19th century, the use of the Makasar (or Jangang-Jangang script) had been completely replaced by the Lontara Bugis script, which Makassarese writers sometimes referred to as "New Lontara". [8]

Although the Latin alphabet has largely replaced Lontara, it is still used to a limited extent in Bugis and Makasar. In Bugis, its usage is limited to ceremonial purposes such as wedding ceremonies. Lontara is also used extensively in printing traditional Buginese literature. In Makasar, Lontara is additionally used for personal documents such as letters and notes. Those who are skilled in writing the script are known as palontara, or 'writing specialists'.[citation needed]


A Lontara scroll in the shape of a tape recorder. La Galigo Museum, Fort Rotterdam, Makassar.
Close-up view

Lontara is an abugida with 23 basic consonants. As of other Brahmic scripts, each consonant of Lontara carries an inherent /a/ vowel, which is changed via diacritics into one of the following vowels; /i/, /u/, /e/, /ə/, or /o/. However, Lontara do not have a virama, or other consonant-ending diacritics. Nasal /ŋ/, glottal /ʔ/, and gemination used in Buginese language are not written. As such, text can be highly ambiguous, even to native readers. For instance, ᨔᨑ can be read as sara 'sorrow', sara’ 'rule', or sarang 'nest'.[9]

The Buginese people take advantage of this defective element of the script in language games called Basa to Bakke’ ᨅᨔ ᨈᨚ ᨅᨀᨙ ('Language of Bakke’ people') and Elong maliung bəttuanna ᨕᨙᨒᨚ ᨆᨒᨗᨕᨘ ᨅᨛᨈᨘᨕᨊ (literally 'song with deep meaning') riddles.[10] Basa to Bakke’ is similar to punning, where words with different meanings but same spelling are manipulated to come up with phrases that have hidden message. This is similar to Elong maliung bettuanna, in which audience are asked to figure the correct pronunciation of a meaningless poem to reveal the poem's hidden message.

Lontara is written from left to right, but it can also be written boustrophedonically. This method is mostly applied in old Buginese journals, in which each page are reserved for record of one day. If a scribe ran out of writing space for one day's log, the continuing line would be written sideways to the page, following a zig-zag pattern until all space are filled.[11]


  • Lota Ende: An extended variant of the Lontara script is Lota Ende, which is used by speakers of the Ende language in central Flores.
  • Mbojo: In eastern Sumbawa, another variant of the Lontara script is found, which is called the Mbojo script and used for the Bima language.[12]
  • Satera Jontal: In western Sumbawa, another variant is used, called the Sumbawa script or Satera Jontal, used for the Sumbawa language.[13]


Museum display showing script comparison of Makasar (left), Lontara (center), and Bilang-bilang (right) at Balla Lompoa Museum, Sungguminasa, Gowa

The contemporary Lontara script is distinctively angular compared to other Brahmic scripts, succeeding from two older, less angular variant called Toa jangang-jangang (Makasar)[14] and Bilang-bilang. Lontara are written without word space (scriptio continua).


The consonants (in Buginese indo’ surə’ ᨕᨗᨉᨚ ᨔᨘᨑᨛ or ina’ surə’ ᨕᨗᨊ ᨔᨘᨑᨛ; in Makassarese anrong lontara’ ᨕᨑᨚ ᨒᨚᨈᨑ) consist of 23 letters. Like other Indic abugidas, each consonant represents a syllable with the inherent vowel /a/.

ka ga nga ngka pa ba ma mpa ta da na nra
/ka/ /ga/ /ŋa/ /ŋka/ /pa/ /ba/ /ma/ /mpa/ /ta/ /da/ /na/ /nra/
ca ja nya nca ya ra la wa sa a ha
/ca/ /ɟa/ /ɲa/ /ɲca/ /ja/ /ra/ /la/ /wa/ /sa/ /a/ /ha/

As previously mentioned, Lontara does not feature a vowel killer mark, like halant or virama common among Indic scripts. Nasal /ŋ/, glottal /ʔ/, and gemination used in Buginese language are not written (with the exception of accidental initial glottal stops, which are written with the null consonant "a").

Four frequent consonant clusters however, are denoted with specific letters. These are ngka , mpa , nra and nca . "Nca" actually represents the sound "nyca" (/ɲca/), but often transcribed only as "nca". Those letters are not used in the Makassarese language. The letter ha is a later addition to the script for the glottal fricative due to the influence of the Arabic language.


The diacritic vowels (in Buginese ana’ surə’  ᨕᨊ ᨔᨘᨑᨛ; in Makassarese ana’ lontara’ ᨕᨊ ᨒᨚᨈᨑ) are used to change the inherent vowel of the consonants. There are five ana’ surə’, with /ə/ not used in the Makassarese language (which does not make a phonological distinction with the inherent vowel). Graphically, they can be divided into two subsets; dots (tətti’) and accents (kəccə’).[15]

Tətti’ riasə’ Tətti’ riawa kəccə’ riolo kəccə’ riasə’ kəccə’ rimunri
/a/ /i/ /u/ /e/ /ə/ /o/
ᨀᨗ ᨀᨘ ᨀᨙ ᨀᨛ ᨀᨚ

The third vowel [e] appears before (to the left) the consonant that it modifies. Such prepended vowel symbols occur in many Indic scripts (such the Thai, Lao and Tai Viet scripts).

Other diacriticsEdit

To transcribe foreign words as well as reducing ambiguity, recent Bugis fonts include three diacritics that suppress the inherent vowel (virama), nasalize the vowel (anusvara), and mark the glottal end or geminated consonant, depending on the position. These diacritics do not exist in traditional Lontara and are not included into Unicode, but has gained currency among Bugis experts, such as Mr Djirong Basang, who worked with the Monotype Typography project to prepare the Lontara fonts used in the LASERCOMP photo typesetting machine.[16]

virama anusvara glottal
/ŋ/ /ʔ/


pallawa end section

Pallawa is used to separate rhythmico-intonational groups, thus functionally corresponds to the period and comma of the Latin script. The pallawa can also be used to denote the doubling of a word or its root.


Buginese was added to the Unicode Standard in March, 2005 with the release of version 4.1.


The Unicode block for Lontara, called Buginese, is U+1A00–U+1A1F:

Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+1A1x ◌ᨗ ◌ᨘ  ᨙ◌ ◌ᨚ ◌ᨛ
1. ^ As of Unicode version 14.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

Sorting orderEdit

  • The Lontara block for Unicode use Matthes' order, in which prenasalized consonants are placed after corresponding nasal consonant, similar to how aspirated consonant would be placed following its unaspirated counterpart in standard Sanskrit. Matthes' order however, does not follow traditional Sanskrit sequence except for the first three of its consonants.
ᨀ ᨁ ᨂ ᨃ ᨄ ᨅ ᨆ ᨇ ᨈ ᨉ ᨊ ᨋ ᨌ ᨍ ᨎ ᨏ ᨐ ᨑ ᨒ ᨓ ᨔ ᨕ ᨖ
  • Lontara consonants can also be sorted or grouped according to their base shapes:
Consonant ka
Consonant pa and based on it: ga , mpa , nra
Consonant ta and based on it: na , ngka , nga , ba , ra , ca , ja , sa
Consonant ma and based on it: da
Consonant la
Consonant wa and based on it: ya , nya , nca , ha , a

Sample textsEdit

Pages of a Galigo manuscript, written in traditional Bugis language with the Lontara script.

An extract from LatoaEdit















ᨊᨀᨚ ᨕᨛᨃ ᨈᨕᨘᨄᨔᨒ᨞ ᨕᨍ ᨆᨘᨄᨈᨒᨒᨚᨓᨗ ᨄᨌᨒᨆᨘ ᨑᨗᨈᨚᨄᨔᨒᨕᨙ᨞

Nako əŋka taupasala, aja mupatalalowi pacalamu ritopasalae.

If you deal with a person guilty of something, do not punish him too harshly.















ᨄᨔᨗᨈᨘᨍᨘᨓᨗᨆᨘᨈᨚᨓᨗᨔ ᨕᨔᨒᨊ ᨄᨌᨒᨆᨘ᨞ ᨕᨄ ᨕᨗᨀᨚᨊᨈᨘ ᨊᨁᨗᨒᨗ ᨉᨙᨓᨈᨕᨙ᨞

Pasitujuwimutowisa asalana pacalamu, apa ikonatu nagili dewatae,

Always make the punishment commensurable with the guilt, since God will be angry with you,













ᨊᨀᨚ ᨅᨕᨗᨌᨘᨆᨘᨄᨗ ᨕᨔᨒᨊ ᨈᨕᨘᨓᨙ᨞ ᨆᨘᨄᨙᨑᨍᨕᨗᨔ ᨄᨉᨈᨚᨓᨗ᨞

nako baicumupi asalana tauwe, muperajaisa padatowi.

if the person's guilt is not great and you are exaggerating it.















ᨊᨀᨚ ᨄᨔᨒᨕᨗ ᨈᨕᨘᨓᨙ᨞ ᨕᨍ ᨈᨗᨆᨘᨌᨒᨕᨗ ᨑᨗᨔᨗᨈᨗᨊᨍᨊᨕᨙᨈᨚᨔ ᨕᨔᨒᨊ᨞

Nako pasalai tauwe, aja timucalai risitinajanaetosa asalana.

If a person is guilty, do not let him go without a punishment in accordance with his guilt.

A RiddleEdit













ᨕᨛᨛᨃ ᨕᨛᨃ ᨁᨑᨙ᨞ ᨕᨛᨃ ᨔᨙᨕᨘᨓ ᨓᨛᨈᨘ᨞

Əŋka əŋka ɡare, əŋka seuwa wəttu,

Once there was a story, once upon a time,

















ᨕᨛᨃ ᨔᨙᨕᨘᨓ ᨕᨑᨘ ᨆᨀᨘᨋᨕᨗ ᨑᨗ ᨒᨘᨓᨘ᨞ ᨆᨔᨒ ᨕᨘᨒᨗ᨞

əŋka seuwa aruŋ makunraï ri Luwu, masala uli.

about a princess in Luwu, with leprosy.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Tol 1996, pp. 213, 216.
  2. ^ Macknight 2016, p. 57.
  3. ^ J. Noorduyn (1993). "Variation in the Bugis/Makasarese script". Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde. KITLV, Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies. 149 (3): 533–570. doi:10.1163/22134379-90003120. JSTOR 27864487.
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-02-08. Retrieved 2013-06-07.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ Druce, Stephen C. (2009). "The lands west of the lakes, A history of the Ajattappareng kingdoms of South Sulawesi 1200 to 1600 CE". KITLV Press Leiden: 63. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. ^ Druce, Stephen C. (2009). The lands west of the lakes, A history of the Ajattappareng kingdoms of South Sulawesi 1200 to 1600 CE. KITLV Press Leiden. pp. 57–63.
  7. ^ J. Noorduyn (1993). Variation in the Bugis/Makasarese script In: Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, Manuscripts of Indonesia 149,no:3. KITLV. p. 535.
  8. ^ Jukes 2019, pp. 49.
  9. ^ R. Tol (1992). Fish food on a tree branch; Hidden meanings in Bugis poetry
  10. ^ R. Tol (1992). Fish food on a tree branch; Hidden meanings in Bugis poetry, "Basa To Bakkeq".
  11. ^ John McGlynn (2003), Indonesian Heritage – Vol 10 – Language & Literature
  12. ^ Miller, Christopher (2011). "Indonesian and Philippine Scripts and extensions". unicode.org. Unicode Technical Note #35.
  13. ^ Pandey, Anshuman (2016). "Representing Sumbawa in Unicode" (PDF). {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  14. ^ Pandey, Anshuman (2015-11-02). "L2/15-233: Proposal to encode the Makasar script in Unicode" (PDF).
  15. ^ "Lontara' Ugi « Dunia Kata-Kata Ku". Chimutluchu.wordpress.com. 2010-04-09. Retrieved 2012-11-21.
  16. ^ http://std.dkuug.dk/jtc1/sc2/wg2/docs/n2633r.pdf[bare URL PDF]
  • Campbell, George L. (1991). Compendium of the World's Languages. Routledge. pp. 267–273.
  • Daniels, Peter T.; Bright, William (1996). The World's Writing Systems. Oxford University Press. pp. 474, 480.
  • Dalby, Andrew (1998). Dictionary of Languages: The Definitive Reference to More Than 400 Languages. Columbia University Press. pp. 99–100, 384. ISBN 9780713678413.
  • Sirk, Ü; Shkarban, Lina Ivanovna (1983). The Buginese Language. USSR Academy of Sciences, Institute of Oriental Studies: Nauka Publishing House, Central Department of Oriental Literature. pp. 24–26, 111–112.

External linksEdit

  • Lontara and Makasar scripts
  • http://unicode-table.com/en/sections/buginese/
  • Buginese script on www.ancientscripts.com
  • Saweri, a font that supports only lontara script. (This font is Truetype-only, and will not properly reorder the prepended vowel /e/ to the left without the help of a compliant text-layout engine, still missing)
  • Revised final proposal for encoding the Lontara (Buginese) script in the UCS, by Michael Everson (2003). Detailed description of the graphical features of the script, needed in conforming fonts (including a ligature), submitted to the ISO TC2 and Unicode working committee prior to the final encoding of the Bugis/Lontara script in the UCS. Note that this document describes a few other characters that were not encoded in the final release of Unicode 4.1 where the script was encoded (notably a vowel killer or virama, found in some transcriptions to disambiguate the script, a diacritic for annotating the gemination of consonants, an anusvara sign for noting the vowelless ng, and a few other punctuation symbols).