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Northern Sulawesi is the home of the Minahasa people. Originally the sultans of Ternate and Tidore ruled over parts of this area. The Dutch first arrived here in 1679. Today many Minahasans around Manado are Christians.

About the same time the Dutch arrived in the Sangir or Sangihe and Talaud islands.

Ujung Pandang is the main city on Sulawesi, originally known as Makassar. The court of the kings of Gowa was here when Gowa was a major trading power in the 1600s. The people here are called Makassarese.

The Bugis people are famous as sailors, and founded trade empires of their own. The most famous Bugis leaders were kings of Bone, which is called Watampone today. Bugis settlements have scattered as far as Kalimantan and Riau. The kings of Gowa and Bone did much to spread Islam through the area.

The island of Butung or Buton did not submit to the Dutch until 1908.

The Toraja people are the original inhabitants of the central part of Sulawesi. They are known for their unusual customs; today most are Christians. The Toraja also resisted the Dutch until the first decade of the 20th Century. The main city of the Toraja region is Rantepao.

Former President B. J. Habibie was from the city of Parepare, making him the first president of Indonesia to be from outside of Java.

In 1960, Sulawesi was divided into North and South Sulawesi provinces. In 1964, Central Sulawesi was separated from North Sulawesi, and Southeast Sulawesi was separated from South Sulawesi.

Sulawesi was formerly known as "Celebes" or "the Celebes", originally by Portuguese sailors who thought that it was several islands instead of one.

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