Stone Jumper in Nias

Sumatra: Land of History and Mystery

Zegrahm Contributor|July 1, 2010|Blog Post

Today, Sumatra is comprised of over 12 ethnic groups, speaking more than 25 languages and hundreds of dialects. As you travel with Zegrahm Expeditions on their first-ever Circumnavigation of Sumatra, you will have the opportunity to experience four of these distinct and diverse cultural groups.

The Acehnese of the North entertain their guests dressed in colorful, hand-embroidered clothing, singing and dancing to lively music, not often heard by outsiders. Until recently, the distinct culture of Western Aceh was protected from the outside by the isolation of the area. The towns and villages were virtually inaccessible. Recent improvements in the road conditions have made travel easier, but the Acehnese fight to maintain their traditional values and culture. They are a proud people and are happy to share their traditions with visitors.

West Sumatra is famous for the unique matrilineal society of the Minangkabau. They are organized into matrilineal clan groups called Suku. The Suku are divided into lineages which consist of all descendants of a single grandmother or great-grandmother. Land, houses, and certain valuable goods are owned in common by a lineage—these possessions may not be sold except under emergency conditions. The Minang are known throughout Indonesia as warm and friendly people who are also great travelers both in their own country and abroad. Even prior to the 19th century, it was common for a young man to leave the village for one or two years to gain experience and seek material wealth in the outside world. The Minang are strong in their Islamic faith and in all aspects of their culture—from their hot, spicy food to their textiles to their singing and dancing. The Minangkabau are famous for Pencak Silat—their own brand of martial arts and dance. Much of the uniqueness of the Minangkabau is exemplified in their architecture. Traditional Minang houses are called “Rumah Gadang” which literally translates to “big house.” They are elongated rectangular structures with gables which rise to peaks at either end. The peaked roofs are said to represent buffalo horns. Zegrahm travelers will be warmly welcomed into the Minang community and will share in their hospitality and their customs.

The stone jumpers of Nias are bound to impress! The higher they jump, the better chance a young man has of getting a wife. Nias is a small island with a history of head-hunting and warfare, slaves and gold. Nias stands apart from the mainstream of Sumatran culture; its people have followed their own line of development and are known for their tribal art and architecture. Zegrahm travelers will be entertained by war dances, stone jumpers, and royal dancers. The society of Nias is hieratic and the nobility do not inter-marry with commoners, even today. The royalty of Nias have certain rights and privileges that can only be born into. Houses show the rank and wealth of the inhabitants within. A visit to Nias is truly a step back in time.

The beauty of Lake Toba and the hauntingly beautiful voices of the Batak who live around the Lake are not to be missed. Today the Batak are known for their singing; in the past they were feared as headhunters who practiced public cannibalism. The Batak had their own system of cosmology and magic and their medical theory focused more on the condition of the soul than on the body.

From the Acehnese’s colorful performances and the welcoming matriarchs of the Minangkabau to the stone jumpers of Nias and the Batak’s magical voices, Sumatra is a unique blend of cultures found nowhere else on earth. Be among the first to circumnavigate this enchanting island and meet the locals who have shaped it.