In many societies, transvestite people are usually identified as an unusual phenomenon or a kind of disease, but in Bugis society, the transvestite persons are accepted as part of society and might become the high priests or bissu. They have privilege position in the society and serve as leader in ritual process such as planting ritual, harvesting ritual, and marriage. Perhaps this sounds strange, but it is the fact that this tradition is still remain today and becoming one of the greatest heritages of Buginese people. Last year, Saidi Puang Matowa, one of the leaders of bissu community in Pangkep Regency, South Sulawesi, said, there are several processes for those who want to become a transvestite high priest.
The first is the acceptance of bissu community. As Saidi said, not every transvestite person is accepted as bissu. A bissu candidate must get the recognition from the high priests community. He must prove his willingness and his strong motivation to become high priest. The high priests will ask whether he serious or not to become one of them. They will monitor the background and the experience of someone who want to become the bissu.
The second is the test about the understanding of the Buginese tradition from hundred years ago. Because bissu have important role in all of society rituals, they must understand the detail of Buginese culture. For Buginese, bissu have to combine female and male. They must also combine human elements with spirit elements and able to communicate with the spirit. Buginese people believe God is not male or female but combination of both. The high priest or the mediator between God and human is someone who has the quality of man and woman. That’s why a bissu candidate must be recognized as transvestite person.
The third step is divine power test. A candidate should know the supernatural power because one of the famous performances of bissu is the ma’giri or self stabbing. To perform this, a bissu will take a sacred keris (knife) which had been passed down through many generations of bissu, and attempt to penetrate their skin with the keris. Bissu will even go to the extent of lying on the floor with the keris pressed into their throat. A bissu is not only mastering the spiritual power, but also know the magic spell. He will mediate the real world with spiritual world. He must learn torilangi language, the special language to communicate with spiritual world.
The fourth step is inauguration. Before that, a candidate must follow the ritual of Irebba or contemplation in the sacred house. He stays in holy house for several days and rethinking his choice. If feeling uncertainly, he might cancel his decision. He should fasting for 40 years and after that he is bathed and shrouded with white cloth that is used to death people. After all, he is inaugurated as the new bissu.
However, if someone is a transvestite person and interested to become a bissu, he must prepare his physical, his magic spell, his knowledge about Buginese culture. He must prepare himself to follow the long journey to become a high priest.