History of Sumatra
The remains of the first people
in Sumatra date back to 13,000 years ago. The remains appear to have come
from hunter-gatherers who lived along
the north coast of Sumatra on the Melaka Straight across from now a day
There has not been any significant discovery of human remains in the rest of Sumatra up until 2000 years ago when people settled in the Western Sumatra highlands.
The first Kingdom to control all of Sumatra was in the 7th Century when the Kingdom of Sriwijaya took power. The Kingdom was based close to current day Palembang. The Kingdom took control of the Straits of Melaka, which at the time, was a major trade route between India and China.
During the 11th Century, Sriwijaya controlled a large part of South East Asia including the Malay Peninsula, Southern Thailand and Cambodia.
In 1025 the Sriwijayan were conquered by King Ravendra Choladewa from Southern India. The power of Sriwijaya soon becom in control of the Kingdown of Malayu.
In 1278 Sumatra was taken control by the Javanese.
The Sumatran power houses relocated their positions to the northern most point of Sumatra - current day Aceh. At this time a lot of Sumatrans were animist. They began trading with the Muslim traders of West India (Gujarat) and soon adopted their religion. These traders were the first to give Sumatra it's name.
Soon Islamic Sultanates were setup around the northern region and given control of the sea ports servicing the Straits of Melaka.
The Dutch began to colonize Indonesia in the early 17th century and soon become one the richest agricultural regions in the world for 320 years. There was resistance against the Dutch and this did not exclude the Sumatrans. It wasn't uncommon for a Sumatran village to burn it's own village the ground and move somewhere else to prevent the Dutch from taken their village.
During the second world war the Japanese occupied Indonesia including Sumatra from 1942 to 1945. There are caves close to Bukkittinggi that were built by the occupying Japanese army as well as some remains of Japanese bunkers on Pulah Weh off the coast of Banda Aceh in the north.
Indonesia gained independence after Japan's surrender to the United States., but it required four years of intermittent negotiations, recurring hostilities, and UN mediation before the Netherlands agreed to relinquish its colony. Indonesia is the world's largest archipelagic state. Current issues include: alleviating widespread poverty, preventing terrorism, continuing the transition to popularly-elected governments after four decades of authoritarianism, implementing reforms of the banking sector, addressing charges of cronyism and corruption, and holding the military and police accountable for human rights violations. Indonesia has been dealing with armed separatist movements in Aceh and in Papua.
The capital of Sumatra, Medan which means battlefield or arena was just a small village in the 16th century. It slowly increased in population and by the beginning of the twentieth century was an important trade centre. The population was estimated to be 75,000 people during the second world war and increased rapidly after this. Todays population is estimated at over 10 million. The first tobacco plantation was established by Jacob Nienhuis in 1863. Large numbers of people from Java and China were brought in to work on this plantation as well as others that sprung up after it was discovered that tobacco grew so well here. Over 300,000 Chinese were brought to Medan between 1870 and 1930.
Sumatra still has a mixture of religions. With 90% Muslim and combination of Christians, protestant and Catholic as well as Hindu and Buddhist.
Last updated 20th July 2008
English - Indonesian translator/dictionary
© 2009 Sumatra Travel
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